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With the reigning national champions, the SEC will be talked about all year. But with a lineup based on mostly freshmen yet again, John Calipari will have to work his magic yet again at Kentucky, while he will be challenged closely by a veteran Florida squad that also has strong leadership of head coach Billy Donovan. Add Missouri and Texas A&M to the conference and this will be an improved SEC, especially with all the transfers coming to Columbia who will look to help the Tigers compete for the conference crown.

Predicted Order of Finish: 1. Florida 2. Kentucky 3. Missouri 4. Tennessee 5. Alabama 6. Arkansas 7. Texas A&M 8. Ole Miss 9. Georgia

10. Vanderbilt 11. LSU 12. Mississippi State 13. Auburn 14. South Carolina

FLORIDA GATORS 2010-11 SU Record: 70% (26-11) 2010-11 ATS Record: 50% (16-16) 2010-11 Over (Total): 59% (19-13) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 25/1

With another legendary Calipari recruiting class, Kentucky is the favorite yet again, but the Gators have the talent and experience to win the SEC with three returning starters from a squad that made last years Elite Eight and were four points shy of making the Final Four. Billy Donovans teams are always fun to watch and led the nation last season with 9.6 threes per game. Even though Bradley Beal isnt back, leading scorer Kenny Boynton (15.9 PPG, 3.0 threes per game, 41% 3-pt FG) is and he should only thrive with more touches. Where the Gators become really dangerous though is in the frontcourt, a crew that can stretch any defense. Now-senior Erik Murphy (10.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG) made 1.7 threes per game last season on a 42.1% clip, making it difficult for any team to defend the 6-foot-10 athlete. Fellow big man Patric Young (10.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG) is more of a traditional post player at 6-foot-9, but makes the most of his chances down low making 61.8% of his field goals last year. He should be ready to become a dominant big as a junior, helping take this team to a conference crown. And the team even receives a solid reinforcement in the form of 6-foot-1 point guard Braxton Ogbueze, who should provide quality minutes and distribute the ball effectively.

KENTUCKY WILDCATS 2010-11 SU Record: 95% (38-2) 2010-11 ATS Record: 45% (17-21-1) 2010-11 Over (Total): 37% (14-24-0) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 12/1

Finally, John Calipari has a national championship. The question is, after sending seemingly his entire team to the NBA, can he repeat? If he can duplicate last years formula of turning a top recruiting class into a cohesive unit, the answer will be yes. Six-foot-10 center Nerlens Noel highlights the class as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, and he will be on watch lists for defensive player of the year honors from day one with his shot-blocking prowess. The best scorers in the class, though, may be on the wing. At 6-foot-7, small forward Alex Poythress often looks unguardable, while 6-foot-5 shooting guard Archie Goodwin can score from anywhere on the floor with a deft 3point shot and an ability to attack the lane. Seven-foot frosh Willie Cauley-Stein will join Noel in the frontcourt along with Kyle Wiltjer (5.0 PPG in 11.6 MPG, 43% 3-pt FG), who was a top recruit in the previous class but got lost behind last years talent. If N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow (9.3 PPG, 3.3 APG) can step up and effectively run the point in his sophomore season, this team will be near impossible to stop.

MISSOURI TIGERS 2010-11 SU Record: 86% (30-5) 2010-11 ATS Record: 66% (19-10-1) 2010-11 Over (Total): 66% (19-10) Returning Starters: 1 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 30/1

In his second year coaching the Tigers and his first year in the SEC, Frank Haith will have his work cut out for him after he lost his stars to the NBA and brings back just one starter from a team that lost to No. 15 seed Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament. That one player is among the most seasoned in the conference in Phil Pressey (10.3 PPG, 6.4 APG) who is a proven distributor. The key addition to the squad will be Connecticut transfer Alex Oriakhi (6.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG), who is eligible to play immediately and is the type of defensive stopper needed to compete in the SEC. He is just one of three transfers who should be critical to this teams success, alongside Keion Bell (Pepperdine) and Earnest Ross (Auburn), both of whom are effective wing scorers. Then come conference play, another transfer, former top recruit Jabari Brown (Oregon), will also be able to play. That should create an extremely talented backcourt late in the season, while the frontcourts success will rest on the shoulders of Laurence Bowers (11.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG) returning from an ACL injury and 6-foot-11 freshman Stefan Jankovic, who is raw, but has high upside.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS 2010-11 SU Record: 56% (19-15) 2010-11 ATS Record: 65% (20-11-1) 2010-11 Over (Total): 41% (12-17-2) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Its difficult to criticize the job Cuonzo Martin has done so far, guiding the Volunteers to a tie for second in the SEC regular season with a 10-6 conference mark. Leading scorer and passer Trae Golden (13.6 PPG, 4.5 APG) is back running the offense again while he will be joined by his partner in crime, senior forward Jeronne Maymon (12.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG) who cleaned up the glass last season. Another key returning starter is the teams third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Jarnell Stokes (9.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG) who is supposedly in excellent shape and ready to fulfill his potential as a top-notch recruit.

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE 2010-11 SU Record: 64% (21-12) 2010-11 ATS Record: 46% (13-15-1) 2010-11 Over (Total): 52% (15-14) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

The Crimson Tide made waves when they secured one of the nations top recruits in 6-foot-7 Devonta Pollard who from the seasons first game will be a threat on the open floor. Minutes wont be easy to come by on this team, however, with four starters returning. But Pollards scoring presence will be critical on a team that will sorely miss JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchells combined 27.1 PPG,14.4 RPG and 2.9 BPG from last season. The team still features Trevor Releford (12.0 PPG), however, who is not the best shooter (27% 3-pt FG). He is, however, a menace defensively with 2.0 SPG last year. He and senior Andrew Steele (6.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.7 APG) will form a solid backcourt, but the question is who will step up on the block. They possess two 7-footers in Carl Engstrom and Moussa Gueye, but neither has proven to be a force on the college level.

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS 2010-11 SU Record: 56% (18-14) 2010-11 ATS Record: 38% (9-15) 2010-11 Over (Total): 50% (12-12) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Mike Anderson struggled in his first year with the Razorbacks, going just 6-10 in the SEC following an early-season knee injury to the teams best player, Marshawn Powell, who scored 19.5 PPG in his two games. Hes back in the fold this season though, and this teams potential rests in the success of his recovery, as Powell is the biggest addition to this team without any impact freshman joining the squad. Also returning is BJ Young (15.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG), who proved to be a prolific scorer in Powells absence but the depth in the backcourt remains suspect Anderson lacks a true distributor, a necessity in his fast-paced offense. Young may emerge as an elite guard nonetheless, after making more than 50% of his field goals as a freshman, including 41.3% from three-point range.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES 2010-11 SU Record: 44% (14-18) 2010-11 ATS Record: 54% (14-12) 2010-11 Over (Total): 40% (10-15) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Like Frank Haith at Missouri, this is Billy Kennedys second year with his team and first in the SEC. But he will have a much more difficult job contending after going 14-18 last year and 4-14 in the Big 12. JUCO transfer Fabyon Harris will be tested as he makes a big leap to major conference competition while G Elston Turner (13.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG) and F Ray Turner (9.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG) will be reliable for a veteran presence and production. With two top backcourt recruits in J'Mychal Reese and Alex Caruso, this team has hope for the future, but they will need time to develop into true contenders.

OLE MISS REBELS 2010-11 SU Record: 59% (20-14) 2010-11 ATS Record: 50% (15-15-2) 2010-11 Over (Total): 53% (17-15) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

The Rebels bring back four starters from a squad that produced an 8-8 record in the SEC last season, playing in its third straight NIT. But Ole Miss still has its sights set on making the NCAA Tournament. Among those returning is senior forward Murphy Holloway (11.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG) who is a beast on the boards. Point guard Jarvis Summers (10.4 PPG, 3.4 APG) is also back after he proved to be an effective shooter in his freshman campaign, hitting 43.6% of his shots from deep. SG Nick Williams averaged 10.1 PPG, but shot just 41% from the floor and 32% from downtown.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS 2010-11 SU Record: 47% (15-17) 2010-11 ATS Record: 46% (13-15) 2010-11 Over (Total): 44% (12-15) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

The Bulldogs bring back four starters from a team that took a big step back last year, sinking below .500 and winning just five conference games. Last years leading scorer Gerald Robinson is gone, meaning even more of the scoring onus will fall on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 SPG), who at 6-foot-5 is a high-usage player that should embrace more shooting chances. Also keep an eye out for 6-foot-9 forward Donte Williams (7.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG) who could be poised for a breakout year down low.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES 2010-11 SU Record: 69% (25-11) 2010-11 ATS Record: 56% (18-14) 2010-11 Over (Total): 41% (13-19) Returning Starters: 5 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

All five starters who guided the Commodores to a 10-6 conference record last year and an SEC Tournament title (beating 30-1 Kentucky), including the conferences leading scorer John Jenkins, are gone. Now head coach Kevin Stallings will have to rely on G Kedren Johnson (3.1 PPG in 14.5 MPG) and under-the-radar freshmen swingmen Sheldon Jeter, Kevin Bright and A.J. Astroth. The latter two have the potential to become effective scorers, but they will need time, as will this entire team of unproven talent.

LSU TIGERS 2010-11 SU Record: 55% (18-15) 2010-11 ATS Record: 60% (18-12) 2010-11 Over (Total): 43% (13-17) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

The Tigers were the conferences surprise last year after adding seven games to their win total from the previous season, but they will start from scratch this season with head coach Johnny Jones. He gets back three starters from last years squad, including 5-foot-9 guard Andre Stringer (10.1 PPG, 2.7 APG) who must improve on his 34.9% FG in order to become this teams true leader. The player who might need to step up most is 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Johnny OBryant III (8.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG), who displayed great potential in his first go around, but experienced the same struggle with efficiency as Stringer, making just 39.9% of his field goals. Well-rounded Anthony Hickey (8.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.8 APG) rejoins Stringer in the backcourt, but he couldn't make a basket from anywhere on the floor (38.4% FG, 31.4% threes) including a dreadful 55.3% on his free throws.

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS 2010-11 SU Record: 64% (21-12) 2010-11 ATS Record: 44% (14-18) 2010-11 Over (Total): 55% (17-14) Returning Starters: 0 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

This will be a big transitional year for the Bulldogs under first-year head coach Rick Ray, who will have to contend with a team returning no starters after freshman Rodney Hood transferred to Duke. The one returning body of note is Jalen Steele (8.7 PPG) who got the starting nod in some of the games last year. Six-foot-9 senior C Wendell Lewis (4.0 RPG) will also be thrust into the spotlight and will be forced to take more shots after making 62.5% FG last year in limited opportunities.

AUBURN TIGERS 2010-11 SU Record: 48% (15-16) 2010-11 ATS Record: 58% (14-10) 2010-11 Over (Total): 38% (9-15)

Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

The Tigers finished below .500 last year but undoubtedly took a step forward (four-win improvement) and finally have a glimmer of hope. In his third season, head coach Tony Barbee brings in two top recruits who should make an immediate impact in the SEC. Shooting guard Jordan Price has the physical tools to become a star at 6-foot-5 while small forward Shaquille Johnson is among the best pure athletes in the freshman class. And with last years leading scorer Frankie Sullivan (12.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG) back in the fold, this team should be able to remain competitive in most conference games and not be completely embarrassed by the SEC elite.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS 2010-11 SU Record: 32% (10-21) 2010-11 ATS Record: 42% (11-15) 2010-11 Over (Total): 68% (17-8) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

The Gamecocks hit a new low last season after posting just two SEC wins, but should have positive change on the way in the form of new head coach Frank Martin. Hell have to contend with a transfer-depleted roster, and wait for last years leading passer Bruce Ellington (11.0 PPG, 3.1 APG) to finish football season. The team's hopes down low will rely mostly with 7-foot freshman Laimonas Chatkevicius, while Southern Miss transfer LaShay Page will need to make an immediate impact.

ALABAMA Coach (years): Anthony Grant (Fourth) Record at school: 69-39 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 21-12, 9-7 (Fifth) *NCAA tournament He's here: G Trevor Releford (12.0 ppg), G Trevor Lacey (7.3 ppg), G Andrew Steele (6.6 ppg), G Levi Randolph (6.5 ppg) He's outta here: F JaMychal Green (14.0 ppg), F Tony Mitchell (13.1 ppg) The skinny: Grant never has the sexy team to watch, but his teams always play tough, physical defense and find ways to win. Now that he has gotten rid of a very talented but problematic player in Green, Grant can avoid all of the off-thecourt distractions, but he also lost his top two scorers and has a 10-man team. The Crimson Tide don't have the talent of a Kentucky or a Missouri, but they'll finish in the upper half of the league. It wouldn't be wise to count them out of a top-four finish. ARKANSAS Coach (years): Mike Anderson (Second) Record at school: 18-14 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 18-14, 6-10 (Ninth)

He's here: F Marshawn Powell (19.5 ppg), G B.J. Young (15.3 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (10.8 ppg), G Rickey Scott (9.1 ppg) He's outta here: G Julysses Nobles (8.7 ppg), F Michael Sanchez (4.0 ppg) The skinny: The record doesn't reflect it, but Anderson had a good season last year. The Razorbacks' problem was they couldn't win on the road, as a horrid 1-9 record attests. Anderson, the lifelong Arkansas assistant who had great success at UAB and Missouri, will get it done with the Hogs, and this year is the start of it. Like Alabama, Arkansas may not finish in the top two, but those third and fourth spots are open. AUBURN Coach (years): Tony Barbee (Third) Record at school: 26-36 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 15-16, 5-11 (T-10th) He's here: G Frankie Sullivan (12.6 ppg), C Rob Chubb (8.1 ppg) He's outta here: F Kenny Gabriel (12.2 ppg), G Varez Ward (9.0 ppg) The skinny: Auburn's still waiting for the Barbee Project to begin. While nobody expected a great turnaround when Barbee was hired, the Tigers have become stagnant. Whispers of huge locker-room turmoil have surfaced and it didn't help that Ward was implicated in a point-shaving scandal in March. Going to be another long year on the Plains. FLORIDA Coach (years): Billy Donovan (16th) Record at school: 386-158 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 26-11, 10-6 (T-second) *Elite Eight He's here: G Kenny Boynton (15.9 ppg), F Erik Murphy (10.5 ppg), C Patric Young (10.2 ppg) He's outta here: G Bradley Beal (14.8 ppg), G Erving Walker (12.1 ppg) The skinny: As good as Donovan has been at Florida, the past two years have left a bitter taste in Gainesville. The Gators won 29 games two years ago and 26 last year, but didn't win a national championship. That's understandable, but still frustrating - the fact is, Florida has lost two straight Elite Eight games, where it had a double-digit lead with eight minutes to play. Since the Gators won back-toback titles in 2006 and 2007, they want to do it again, and they feel this is the team that may do it. With a solid nucleus back plus another stellar recruiting class, Florida doesn't feel like it has to bow down to Kentucky just because of that new banner hanging in Rupp Arena. GEORGIA Coach (years): Mark Fox (Fourth)

Record at school: 50-46 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 15-17, 5-11 (T-10th) He's here: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13.2 ppg), F Donte Williams (7.8 ppg), F Nemanja Djurisic (7.0 ppg), F Marcus Thornton (3.0 ppg) He's outta here: G Gerald Robinson (14.2 ppg) The skinny: Fox took the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament two years ago but missed last year, after an expected dropoff from losing talent. It doesn't look like he'll be able to correct it this year, although he has some talent to build around. Fox has a good core, but welcoming two new teams into the league may be the difference between him having a winning season or not. Georgia may offer a few surprises, but a .500 finish seems the most likely destination. KENTUCKY Coach (years): John Calipari (Fourth) Record at school: 102-14 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 38-2, 16-0 (First) SEC regular-season champion NATIONAL CHAMPION He's here: F Nerlens Noel (first year), F Alex Poythress (first year), F Willie Cauley-Stein (first year), G Archie Goodwin (first year), F Kyle Wiltjer (5.0 ppg) He's outta here: F Anthony Davis (14.2 ppg), G Doron Lamb (13.7 ppg), F Terrence Jones (12.3 ppg), F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.0 ppg), G Marquis Teague (10.0 ppg), G Darius Miller (9.9 ppg) The skinny: Kentucky lost an NBA starting five (plus more) after storming to the national title last season, yet was still picked to win the SEC again. Why? Easy. The Wildcats simply went out and signed three five-star recruits, plus another four-star prospect. All of the one-and-dones may eventually catch up to Calipari in terms of APR, but it won't for a while. In the meantime, the rest of the league suffers. LSU Coach (years): Johnny Jones (First) Record at school: 0-0 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 18-15, 7-9 (Eighth) *NIT He's here: G Andre Stringer (10.1 ppg), G Anthony Hickey (8.9 ppg), F Johnny O'Bryant (8.5 ppg) He's outta here: Coach Trent Johnson, C Justin Hamilton (12.9 ppg), G Ralston Turner (9.1 ppg) The skinny: The Tigers were dealt a setback when Johnson unexpectedly bolted

for the TCU job after the season. LSU had improved throughout last year until a late-season fold ended its chances for the NCAAs, but with a healthy and solid team coming back, thought it could make some noise. Instead, Jones is coming in with a new style. Jones is an LSU alum and was around for the Dale Brown days, so he knows the tradition, and has a good team for his first try. LSU was picked rather low, but don't be surprised if O'Bryant becomes an All-SEC performer this year and the Tigers go dancing. MISSISSIPPI STATE Coach (years): Rick Ray (First) Record at school: 0-0 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 21-12, 8-8 (T-sixth) *NIT He's here: G Jalen Steele (8.7 ppg) He's outta here: Coach Rick Stansbury, F Arnett Moultrie (16.4 ppg), G Dee Bost (15.8 ppg), G Rodney Hood (10.3 ppg), F Renardo Sidney (9.7 ppg) The skinny: Yes, that really happened. The Bulldogs turned an assured NCAA tournament trip into a stumbling finish, losing seven of their last nine to play themselves right out of the tournament. That led to more locker-room turmoil, with rampant egos, which led to several departures and the retirement of longtime coach Stansbury. MSU is trying to start all over, including trying to wipe away some of the shadiness of the Stansbury era, and get back to prominence. It won't be this year. Steele is the only returning player of note, and the Bulldogs will finish near the bottom of the SEC. MISSOURI Coach (years): Frank Haith (Second) Record at school: 30-5 2011-12 record (Big 12 finish): 30-5, 14-4 (Second) *NCAA tournament He's here: G Phil Pressey (10.3 ppg), G Michael Dixon (13.5 ppg) He's outta here: G Marcus Denmon (17.7 ppg), G Kim English (14.5 ppg), F Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 ppg), G Matt Pressey (6.2 ppg) The skinny: The Tigers had an outstanding first year under Haith, clinching a No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament, then shockingly lost to No. 15-seed Norfolk State. After losing four starters, Missouri was thought to struggle this year, but yet, the Tigers replaced the four with a lot of talent. Pressey was voted SEC Preseason Player of the Year and Missouri was voted to finish third in the league. Preseason predictions don't count for much, but the Tigers are aiming to show that it wasn't a joke. With Haith, he needs to show what he can do. Last year's Tigers were put in place by Anderson, not him. OLE MISS Coach (years): Andy Kennedy (Seventh) Record at school: 125-78

2011-12 record (SEC finish): 20-14, 8-8 (T-sixth) *NIT He's here: F Murphy Holloway (11.2 ppg), G Jarvis Summers (10.4 ppg); G Nick Williams (10.1 ppg), F Reginald Buckner (6.9 ppg) He's outta here: F Terrance Henry (12.5 ppg) The skinny: Kennedy has won more games in his first six years than anyone in school history, but his seat is a bit warm. Why? He still hasn't taken the Rebels to the NCAA tournament, only advancing to five NITs. The reason for it is that Kennedy always plays a soft non-conference schedule, which hurts him come March - the Rebels only finishing above .500 in the league once during his tenure also hurts. He has the talent to make the tournament this year, but will have to fight past Alabama and Arkansas. The top teams in the league only appear once on the schedule, so that may help him out. If not, he may have to go jobhunting. SOUTH CAROLINA Coach (years): Frank Martin (First) Record at school: 0-0 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 10-21, 2-14 (12th) He's here: G Bruce Ellington (11.0 ppg), G Damien Leonard (6.8 ppg), G Brenton Williams (6.1 ppg) He's outta here: Coach Darrin Horn, F Malik Cooke (12.3 ppg), F Anthony Gill (7.6 ppg), F Damontre Harris (6.8 ppg) The skinny: While Martin brings an infusion of energy to a program needing it, the Gamecocks don't have much to work with this year. Ellington won't return until January and USC simply doesn't have players on offense. USC will play tough defense and be competitive, and can take advantage of a soft nonconference schedule. But the real improvement will probably be shown next year. TENNESSEE Coach (years): Cuonzo Martin (Second) Record at school: 19-15 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 19-15, 10-6 (T-second) *Second round, NIT He's here: G Trae Golden (13.6 ppg), F Jeronne Maymon (12.7 ppg), F Jarnell Stokes (9.6 ppg), G Jordan McRae (8.6 ppg) He's outta here: Cameron Tatum (8.1 ppg), G Skylar McBee (6.6 ppg) The skinny: Not many were impressed with the hire of Martin two years ago, figuring that he would simply be a caretaker, steering Tennessee through the aftermath of the Bruce Pearl era before UT could thank him kindly and go get a real coach. Instead, Martin won a surprising 10 games in the SEC last year, tying for second, and had the Volunteers not had a couple of bad losses early in the

year (Austin Peay, College of Charleston), they would have been dancing. Instead, they went to the NIT and celebrated a year where they certainly did more than expected. With four starters back and some solid recruits, Martin should enjoy another fine season. He really needs to, since he'll lose five seniors in March. TEXAS A&M Coach (years): Billy Kennedy (Second) Record at school: 14-18 2011-12 record (Big 12 finish): 14-18, 4-14 (Ninth) He's here: G Elston Turner (13.8 ppg), F Ray Turner (9.1 ppg) He's outta here: F Khris Middleton (13.2 ppg), F David Loubeau (11.0 ppg), G Dash Harris (6.0 ppg) The skinny: Not many know what to expect from the Aggies, who enter their first year in the league coming off a rough outing in their last year in the Big 12. Kennedy is a fine coach, despite being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease last year, and will have his team playing hard, but may not do so hot in his first year in the SEC. The Big 12 was a very strong league last year and the SEC is no different, although there is a big dropoff from the top-tier teams such as Kentucky and Florida to Alabama and Arkansas. A&M may surprise folks. VANDERBILT Coach (years): Kevin Stallings (14th) Record at school: 261-159 2011-12 record (SEC finish): 25-11, 10-6 (T-second) *Second round, NCAA tournament SEC tournament champion He's here: G Kedren Johnson (3.1 ppg), G Dai-Jon Parker (1.7 ppg) He's outta here: G John Jenkins (19.9 ppg), F Jeffery Taylor (16.1 ppg), C Festus Ezeli (10.1 ppg), G Brad Tinsley (9.0 ppg) The skinny: Stallings knew that he had the greatest team of his tenure last year, and knew that if the Commodores couldn't get somewhere that year, they may not ever. Vandy had a stirring emotional win in the SEC tournament championship over eventual national champion Kentucky, but lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Vandy's overhauled roster had to replace the six highest scorers from last year, and the Commodores may struggle with a team featuring two juniors and no seniors. It also doesn't help that Parker is indefinitely suspended. Seems to be a case of playing this year to get to next.

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The Big East will have a different feeling this year without Jim Calhouns shadow looming over the conference. But Rick Pitinos Louisville squad figures to be one of the nations best while Jim Boeheim brings back a stacked Syracuse team for his final year in the conference. With other top coaches Mike Brey (Notre Dame) and John Thompson III (Georgetown) still in the conference and deep Pittsburgh and Cincinnati squads waiting in the wings, this conference could send as many as seven teams to the Big Dance.

Predicted Order of Finish*: 1. Syracuse 2. Louisville 3. Notre Dame 4. Cincinnati 5. Pittsburgh 6. Georgetown 7. St. Johns 8. Marquette 9. South Florida 10. Villanova 11. Rutgers 12. Seton Hall 13. DePaul 14. Providence *Connecticut is ineligible for postseason play

SYRACUSE ORANGE 2011-12 SU Record: 92% (34-3) 2011-12 ATS Record: 47% (17-19) 2011-12 Over (Total): 47% (16-18-2) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 25/1

Jim Boeheims squad will look quite different without last years two leading scorers Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters, plus Fab Melo no longer roaming the paint and Scoop Jardine not running the point anymore. Now is Brandon Triches (9.4 PPG, 2.6 APG) time to shine as the senior leader of this squad. Hell be joined in the backcourt by Michael Carter-Williams (2.7 PPG, 2.1 APG) who displayed strong court vision in his limited duty last season (10.3 MPG). Freshman 6-foot-10 C DaJuan Coleman will be charged with replacing Melo from game one, and should be able to do that as one of the top recruits in the conference. He will be joined in the paint by fellow first-year player Jerami Grant, the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant. Throw in C.J. Fair (8.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and James Southerland (6.8 PPG, 34% 3-pt FG) on the wing and this team will have no shortage of assets as it tries to match last years 17-1 Big East record.

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS 2011-12 SU Record: 75% (30-10) 2011-12 ATS Record: 63% (22-13-2) 2011-12 Over (Total): 42% (15-21) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 7/1

This year is Rick Pitinos chance to make the Big East his conference, entering the season as the No. 2 team in the nation. The Cardinals didnt reach their potential last season until the NCAAs, finishing 10-8 in the conference even though they had six players averaging at least 9.0 PPG. Although last years leading scorer Kyle Kuric is gone, junior Russ Smith (11.5 PPG, 2.2 SPG) is back in the fold after posting those numbers in just 21.1 MPG last year. Sophomore Chane Behanan (9.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG) should be ready to take an even bigger step this year after producing strong numbers from the post in his first campaign, with 13.2 PPG and 8.0 RPG in the NCAA Tournament. Throw in a veteran point guard in senior Peyton Siva (9.1 PPG, 5.6 APG, 1.7 SPG) and a rapidly improving center Gorgui Dieng (9.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG), and you can see why expectations are so high in Louisville. This experienced club will be joined by a highly-rated newcomer Montrezl Harrell. Although the 6-foot-8 forward was originally set to go to Virginia Tech, the firing of Seth Greenberg there gave Pitino an opening to score another player who should contribute immediately in this deep frontcourt.

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH 2011-12 SU Record: 65% (22-12) 2011-12 ATS Record: 44% (12-15-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 33% (9-18-1) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Any Mike Brey squad can compete, and this years team has the potential to do way more than that with all five starters returning from a squad that finished third in the conference with a 13-5 record. Jack Cooley (12.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG) is one of the Big Easts premier bigs, coming off an uber-efficient campaign in which he made 62.5% of his field goals and swatted 1.6 shots per game. But the backcourt figures to be just as dangerous led by Jerian Grant (12.3 PPG, 5.0 APG) and Eric Atkins (12.1 PPG, 4.1 APG). Both are strong passers and shooters, who should have no problem making this offense flow alongside 6-foot-8 swingman Scott Martin (9.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG). He is a matchup nightmare with a guards skillset and a forwards body. Throw in some fresh blood with small forward Cameron Biedscheid and power forwards Austin Burgett and Eric Katenda, and this team has no shortage of talent in the frontcourt.

CINCINNATI BEARCATS 2011-12 SU Record: 70% (26-11) 2011-12 ATS Record: 55% (17-14) 2011-12 Over (Total): 45% (14-17) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1

The Bearcats hung around amongst the Big East elite last year, tying for fourth with a 12-6 conference record and reaching the Sweet 16. They bring back their leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick (14.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG), who averaged 2.5 three-pointers per game last year and isnt afraid to shoot the ball. Although the next two leading scorers Dion Dixon and Yancy Gatesare gone, Cashmere Wright (10.9 PPG, 4.6 APG) is back to give this team a senior presence running the point. If fellow senior JaQuon Parker (9.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG) improves on his play from last season with increased minutes, this will be a nasty backcourt. It remains to be seen, though, if guys like Justin

Jackson (5.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG), 6-foot-10 sophomore Kelvin Gaines and freshman Shaquille Thomas can step up in the post for Mick Cronin to make this team compete with the conferences best.

PITTSBURGH PANTHERS 2011-12 SU Record: 56% (22-17) 2011-12 ATS Record: 44% (15-19) 2011-12 Over (Total): 52% (17-16-1) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 40/1

Head coach Jamie Dixon has his work cut out for him this year, replacing two double-digit scorers from last season in SG Ashton Gibbs and SF Nasir Robinson. But any team with a senior point guard like Tray Woodall (11.7 PPG, 6.1 APG) is going to be dangerous, as he is a threat to drive, shoot (1.8 threes per game) or hit his open targets as an elite passer. The question for this team is who he will be passing to, with the most potential resting in the hands of 6-foot-10 freshman C Steven Adams, arguably the best recruit in all of the conference. But also look for 6-foot-5 swingman Lamar Patterson (9.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG) to emerge as more of a scoring threat, with the ability to post up but also extend defenses, making 41% of his threes last season. Senior Dante Taylor (5.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG), a former McDonald's All-American, should also be ready to assume a bigger role in his final go-around after making great use of his limited 18.8 MPG last season.

GEORGETOWN HOYAS 2011-12 SU Record: 73% (24-9) 2011-12 ATS Record: 57% (16-12) 2011-12 Over (Total): 46% (13-15) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 50/1

John Thompson III had three double-digit scorers last season: Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims, who are all gone. That makes for a younger Hoyas squad that if it succeeds, it will be led by 6-foot-8 sophomore Otto Porter (9.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG). But he didnt even start last year, with the two returning starters being G Markel Starks (7.1 PPG) and F Nate Lubick (3.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.0 APG). Throw in freshman SG DVauntes Smith-Rivera and SF Stephen Domingo, this is a team filled with talent, but a dearth of experience.

ST. JOHNS RED STORM 2011-12 SU Record: 41% (13-19) 2011-12 ATS Record: 48% (13-14-2) 2011-12 Over (Total): 48% (14-15) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1

After having the conferences most inexperienced team last year, Steve Lavin's team is back in full force this year, returning four starters from a team that struggled to compete with a 6-12 Big East mark. Moe Harkless is gone after averaging 15.3 PPG and 8.6 rebounds last year, but last years leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison (17.0 PPG) is back and should only get better in his sophomore campaign. Godsgift Achiuwa (9.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG) is also back for his second year with the Red Storm, while Lavin added another solid freshman in the frontcourt in Christopher Obekpa. If sophomore Phil Greene IV (7.6 PPG, 3.0 APG) can mature in the point guard role, this team has an outside shot at dancing in March.

MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES 2011-12 SU Record: 77% (27-8) 2011-12 ATS Record: 58% (18-13-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 59% (19-13) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1

The Golden Eagles return three starters, but lose their two most important onesDarius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, who were the teams only double-digit scorers and combined for nearly 36 PPG last year. But they bring back 6-foot-11 C Chris Otule, who missed most of last season with an ACL injury, and Davante Gardner, a 6-foot-8, 290-pound weapon who was third on the team in scoring (9.5 PPG) and second in rebounding (5.3 RPG) last season. They should form an above average frontcourt alongside Jamil Wilson (7.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG). However, the backcourt will need point guard Junior Cadougan (6.3 PPG, 5.4 APG) to step up his scoring output and effectively distribute the ball to his fellow perimeter weapons Todd Mayo (7.9 PPG) and Vander Blue (8.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG).

SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS 2011-12 SU Record: 61% (22-14) 2011-12 ATS Record: 55% (18-15) 2011-12 Over (Total): 30% (10-23) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1

The Bulls surprised many last year by tying for fourth in the conference with a 12-6 record, doing it all with a leading scorer with a mere 9.5 PPG in the now-graduated Augustus Gilchrist. It will be tough for them to match last years output, but all eyes will be on Victor Rudd (9.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and sophomore point guard Anthony Collins (9.0 PPG, 5.2 APG), who led the team in minutes last year and should be the focal point of the methodical offense.

VILLANOVA WILDCATS 2011-12 SU Record: 41% (13-19) 2011-12 ATS Record: 26% (7-20-2) 2011-12 Over (Total): 68% (19-9-1) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1

With three returning starters, Jay Wright has veteran talent to mold, but it remains to be seen if that talent is enough to compete in this deep conference. Last years leading scorers, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek and their combined 30.1 PPG are gone, leaving a huge scoring void in the Wildcats backcourt. C Mouphtaou Yarou (11.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG) is also back, and the pressure will be on that pair to give this team a chance this year. Wright has also done a solid job recruiting with point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and 6-foot-10 PF Daniel Ochefu both talented enough to play meaningful minutes.

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS 2011-12 SU Record: 44% (14-18) 2011-12 ATS Record: 35% (9-17) 2011-12 Over (Total): 50% (12-12-1) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 500/1

Even returning four starters, the Rutgers are long shots in this years conference without bringing in any top freshmen. Last years leading scorer, Eli Carter (13.8 PPG), will be the player to watch for the Scarlet Knights. Swingman Dane Miller (7.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.3 SPG) is an asset defensively, though his offensive game leaves much to be desired. Guards Myles Mack (9.8 PPG, 34% 3-pt FG) and Jerome Seagears (7.7 PPG, 33% 3-pt FG) will have to shoot with greater accuracy for this team to be competitive.

SETON HALL PIRATES 2011-12 SU Record: 62% (21-13) 2011-12 ATS Record: 57% (17-13) 2011-12 Over (Total): 37% (11-19) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Its going to be an uphill battle for the Pirates to compete in this years Big East, after losing their top two players Jordan Theodore and Herb Popewho helped them grind out eight conference wins last year. This team looks to swingman Fuquan Edwin (12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.0 SPG) and Aaron Cosby (7.9 PPG, 38% 3-pt FG) to provide leadership, but they dont have the surrounding talent to seriously threaten in this years conference.

DePAUL BLUE DEMONS 2011-12 SU Record: 39% (12-19) 2011-12 ATS Record: 48% (13-14) 2011-12 Over (Total): 48% (13-14) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 300/1

The Blue Demons might be able to improve on last years putrid three conference wins with the return of Cleveland Melvin (17.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Brandon Young (14.5 PPG, 4.7 APG). But this is largely the same nucleus that struggled to compete last year, allowing the most points among Big East teams (76.7 PPG).

PROVIDENCE FRIARS 2011-12 SU Record: 47% (15-17) 2011-12 ATS Record: 50% (13-13) 2011-12 Over (Total): 54% (14-12) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 300/1

Expect another year in the Big East cellar for the Friars, even though point guard Vincent Council (15.9 PPG, 7.5 APG) is a nightmare to guard with his ability see the floor and get to the hole. Providence also returns gifted scorers F LaDontae Henton (14.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG) and Bryce Cotton (14.3 PPG).

CONNECTICUT HUSKIES 2011-12 SU Record: 59% (20-14) 2011-12 ATS Record: 43% (12-16-2) 2011-12 Over (Total): 50% (15-15) Returning Starters: 1 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: Not eligible for postseason play

Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun is no longer roaming the sidelines for the Huskies, and his former point guard Kevin Ollie will take the reins with zero head coaching experience. It will take Ollie a while to rebuild this team that lost Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond to the NBA and Alex Oriakhi to transfer. Shabazz Napier (13.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.8 APG) will have to bear the brunt of the burden running this offense while Ryan Boatright (10.4 PPG, 4.0 APG, 38% 3-pt FG) will have to step up in his sophomore year. Omar Calhoun should be a valuable asset at guard in his freshman season, but it will still be difficult for this crew to compete in the conference.

2012-13 Big East Power Rankings Here's how the Big East teams stack up in the 2012-13 season:

1. Louisville Cardinals

The Cardinals won 30 games last season and did so through injuries and difficulties. This season, Rick Pitino will have tremendous depth, talent and experience, and a chance to win another national championship.

If its healthy in March, this team could be special. Expect Peyton Siva to have an All-Big East season and Chane Behanan to take off as a star. Freshmen Montrezl Harrell of North Carolina, the 6-foot-8 forward who was originally slated to attend Virginia Tech, and point guard Terry Rozier of Ohio will both help right away. Give Pitino healthy players and he will deliver wins ... and maybe even a championship.

2. Syracuse Orange

While the focus is on losing Kris Joseph, Fab Melo, Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters from a Syracuse-record, 34-win team, the Orange return Brandon Triche, who could average 20 points per game, point guard Michael Carter-Williams and shooter Trevor Cooney -- all terrific perimeter talents.

Baseline talents include lefty C.J. Fair and freshman wing Jerami Grant. Inside, Rakeem Christmas can block shots and rebound, and DaJuan Coleman will anchor the middle. Syracuse will lack experience but not talent.

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Mike Brey did not get Tim Abromaitis back for a sixth season of eligibility but did get lefty Scott Martin. And the Irish have everybody else back, including Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, a strong backcourt and Jack Cooley -- an outstanding rebounder -- up front.

The Irish finished third in the Big East last season, which was a tremendous performance by a young team. Cameron Biedscheid, a 6-6 freshman from St. Louis, can come in and help, but he does not have to be relied upon. This year's Irish team will be experienced, which will allow young players to develop.

4. Marquette Golden Eagles

Buzz Williams has built upon a culture of hard work, toughness and preparation, and the Golden Eagle program is going to be a contender for as long as the Big East lasts. Returnees Vander Blue, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner will provide a solid nucleus, and transfer Trent Lockett of Arizona State and 6-7 freshman Steve Taylor of Chicago will add some quality depth. Marquette may have a "no-name" quality to its roster, but this team will scrap and fight its way to the upper division of the league.

5. Pittsburgh Panthers

Even though Pitt won 22 games, last season was a nightmare in which the Panthers experienced a drop from their incredibly high standards. Returnees Tray Woodall, whose injury killed Pitt last year, Lamar Patterson, J.J. Moore and Dante Taylor should make Pitt much better, as it brings back three starters.

Few freshmen can come in and crack Jamie Dixon's lineup, but New Zealand big man Steven Adams and hotshot DeMatha point guard James Robinson will be able to play right away. Transfer Trey Zeigler will be eligible from the start of the season and should compete for time from the first day. Last year, Pitt was ranked on prior performance. This

year, it is because nobody can believe Pitt could be down for two straight seasons.

6. Georgetown Hoyas

The Hoyas lost seniors Henry Sims and Jason Clark, and junior Hollis Thompson declared for the NBA draft (going undrafted). But Otto Porter is prepared to be an All-Big East player, Markel Starks will be an experienced junior, and Greg Whittington has very good versatility and talent.

Add in 6-3 freshman shooting guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera from Oak Hill Academy and 6-7 forward Stephen Domingo of San Francisco, and John Thompson III will have talent to work with. You can get worn out underestimating Georgetown.

7. Cincinnati Bearcats

Mick Cronin has built a solid foundation at Cincinnati on defense, rebounding and toughness, and despite the loss of Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon, the Bearcats should be good again.

With the return of shooter/scorer Sean Kilpatrick and guards Cashmere Wright and Jaquon Parker, Cincinnati has talent and experience coming back, and players who have experienced success and hardship alike. The Bearcats need to improve offensive efficiency, as Cincinnati shot only 42 percent from the floor last season.

8. South Florida Bulls

Stan Heath has found a way to win at South Florida, which is no easy task. The Bulls' games were not pretty to watch, but the size and powerful defense of this team resulted in an NCAA tournament berth.

Point guard Anthony Collins plays lower to the ground than any other guard I can remember, and he controls the game. Victor Rudd Jr., a spectacular athlete, Jawanza Poland and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick can all defend and rebound, and any offense is a bonus. South Florida did not have a single player average double figures last season.

9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Mike Rice has done a really nice job recruiting and bringing Rutgers along to respectability in the Big East. The Scarlet Knights have four starters back, losing only Gilvydas Biruta. Guard Eli Carter is the most explosive scorer, and Jerome Seagears and Myles Mack provide Rice with quality guards and wings.

Dane Miller and Austin Johnson are experienced, and Kansas State transfer Wally Judge is very talented and can be a difference-maker along with Kadeem Jack, who was injured and limited last season.

10. Connecticut Huskies

The Huskies were hit by the NCAA's retroactive application of the Academic Progress Rate increase and will be left out of the 2013 NCAA tournament. The resulting exodus has almost gutted the program. Gone are Alex Oriakhi (Missouri) and Roscoe Smith (UNLV), in addition to NBA defectors Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb.

Small but quick and explosive guards Ryan Boatright and 6-3 freshman Omar Calhoun will team up with bigs Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels. Olander and Daniels need to assert themselves offensively and cannot afford to get into foul trouble. Will UConn be able to block shots and intimidate? Probably not, but the Huskies have some talent -- just not depth.

11. St. John's Red Storm

The Red Storm are young again, and even though the Big East is going through changes, it is still a league that punishes youth. Moe Harkless and assistant Mike Dunlap were lost to the NBA, but God'sgift Achiuwa, Sir'Dominic Pointer, D'Angelo Harrison and Amir Garrett are talented second-year players. Freshman forward Christopher Obekpa of Centereach, N.Y., has potential, but he too is another young player.

In the "good old days," St. John's could expect these young players to mature together, but who knows how long they'll stick around together.

12. Villanova Wildcats

Last season was brutal for Villanova, and Jay Wright lost Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek for the potential to be drafted (neither was selected). Big men Mouphtaou Yarou and JayVaughn Pinkston return, as do guards Darrun Hilliard and Achraf Yacoubou.

Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and freshman forward Daniel Ochefu add depth, but Villanova will likely still be a year away.

13. Seton Hall Pirates

The Pirates finished 21-13 last season, just shy of inclusion in the NCAA tournament. The losses of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope leave big holes in the leadership, scoring and playmaking departments. Fuquan Edwin is an outstanding defender who gets steals and deflections, Aaron Cosby can shoot it and help space the floor, and transfers Eugene Teague, Brian Oliver and Kyle Smyth will step in and play right away.

Teague is a good inside player, and Oliver (Georgia Tech) and Smyth (Iona) can both shoot it. The key will be point guard play.

14. Providence Friars

Top scorers Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton are back. An outstanding recruiting class of freshmen Ricky Ledo, a big-time scorer, Josh Fortune, a hard-hatwearing worker, and Kris Dunn, an excellent point guard prospect, gave Providence some real hope that things would improve quickly.

A shoulder injury to Dunn, which will keep him out for several months, and potential eligibility concerns with Ledo have shaken some believers. However, head coach Ed Cooley was not building for just one year but for the long haul. It will be a long process.

15. DePaul Blue Demons

Cleveland Melvin, along with Vincent Council of Providence, is one of the best players not getting attention because his team doesn't win. Melvin averaged almost 18 points and 7.4 rebounds on a 12-19 team last season. Brandon Young and Moses Morgan return to provide more experience.

Moving up in the Big East is tough, and DePaul will need more time to establish high-level consistency. Having scorers is fine, but the Blue Demons gave up 48 percent shooting on the defensive end. That will not win in the Big East.

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This year, the top three teams in the ACC are separated by just a few miles with NC State, Duke and North Carolina all ranked in the nation's top 15.

Predicted Order of Finish: 1. Duke 2. NC State 3. North Carolina 4. Miami 5. Florida State 6. Virginia 7. Maryland 8. Georgia Tech 9. Clemson 10. Wake Forest

11. Virginia Tech 12. Boston College

DUKE BLUE DEVILS 2011-12 SU Record: 79% (27-7) 2011-12 ATS Record: 38% (13-21) 2011-12 Over (Total): 60.6% (20-13-1) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 20/1

Leading scorer Austin Rivers may be gone to the NBA, but Duke returns four of its five starters from its squad that averaged 77.3 points per game, but was unceremoniously bounced in the NCAA Tournaments Round of 64 by Lehigh. The key to this season's team will be senior forward Mason Plumlee, who chose not to enter the NBA Draft after a season in which he averaged nearly a double-double (11.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG). He is joined in the frontcourt by senior Ryan Kelly, who can stretch defenses as a long-range shooter (41% threes). The backcourt is led by senior Seth Curry, but with Rivers gone, he will return to his more natural position off the ball, where he thrives with a better than 40% three-point stroke in his Duke career. That will place a lot of pressure on sophomore Quinn Cook to run the point, after the Blue Devils ranked an abysmal 202nd in Division I with 12.4 assists per game last season. Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon joins the backcourt as a premier defender, while redshirt freshman Alex Murphy is expected to start from day one, giving head coach Mike Krzyzewski a vital 6-foot-8 swing player that the team lacked last season, when they often were forced into defensive mismatches with three-guard lineups.

NC STATE WOLFPACK 2011-12 SU Record: 65% (24-13) 2011-12 ATS Record: 56% (18-14-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 61% (20-13) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 15/1

From barely making last years NCAA Tournament to ACC favorites this year, the Wolfpack have the burden of heavy expectations this year with a veteran squad that is supplemented by a heralded recruiting class. C.J. Leslie (14.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and Richard Howell (10.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG) return to form the conferences most physical post tandem, while Lorenzo Brown (12.7 PPG, 6.3 APG) may be the best point guard in the league. He is joined in the backcourt by arguably the conferences most college-ready recruit in Rodney Purvis, who can light up a scoreboard. Head coach Mark Gottfried has no shortage of weapons this season with senior forward Scott Wood (12.4 PPG) rounding out the crew at 6-foot-6 and possessing a knack from deep, nailing 2.6 treys per game last year at a 41% clip.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS 2011-12 SU Record: 84% (32-6) 2011-12 ATS Record: 54% (20-17) 2011-12 Over (Total): 50% (18-18-1) Returning Starters: 1 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 25/1

Roy Williams Tar Heels will be a new look squad this year without Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes all gone to the NBA. Now this team will be in the hands of sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, whose talents were buried behind last years stacked squad. He showed his ability to get on the scoreboard last year with 6.1 points per game in just 15.6 minutes, but will have a lot of pressure after last years

team ranked first in the nation in rebound margin (+10.2) and third in points (81.3). Sharpshooter Reggie Bullock (8.8 PPG, 38% 3-pt FG) returns on the wing as does Dexter Strickland (57% FG), who returns after missing half of last years campaign after tearing his ACL. But the key to the backcourt will be heralded freshman guard Marcus Paige, who has Marshalls shoes to fill running an offense that averaged 17.3 assists per game last year, fourth in the country.

MIAMI HURRICANES 2011-12 SU Record: 61% (20-13) 2011-12 ATS Record: 52% (15-14-2) 2011-12 Over (Total): 60% (18-12) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1

The Hurricanes had some strong moments in Jim Larranagas first year at the helm, including a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and they return four players from that squad. Three of their four double-digit scorers from last year are back in Durand Scott (12.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG), Kenny Kadji (11.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Reggie Johnson (10.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG). Scott runs the offense but the keys to it are forwards Kadji and Johnsonat 6-foot-11, Kadji is a matchup nightmare with his touch that extends beyond the arc, while Johnson is a bull in the paint at 285 pounds.

FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES 2011-12 SU Record: 71% (25-10) 2011-12 ATS Record: 55% (18-15) 2011-12 Over (Total): 52% (17-16) Returning Starters: 1 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1

After a strong ACC showing last year (12-4 record), the Seminoles were bounced in the Round of 32 in the Big Dance. Although Leonard Hamiltons squad returns just one starter, it is the most important onesenior guard Michael Snaer (14.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG), who made 40% of his shots from deep. Ian Miller (10.3 PPG) joins him in the backcourt, where they will also receive help from freshman Montay Brandon, who at 6-foot-7 should be ready to contribute from day one. The question is if the return of Terrance Shannon, who played just seven games last season due to a shoulder injury, to the frontcourt can make up for the loss of bigs Bernard James and Xavier Gibson, who did all the dirty work for Hamilton last year.

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS 2011-12 SU Record: 69% (22-10) 2011-12 ATS Record: 54% (14-12-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 26% (7-20) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Tony Bennett turned the Cavaliers into a dangerous team last year with his painfully defensive style of play, keeping opponents to 54.2 points per game, the second fewest in the nation. The team will sorely miss last years centerpiece Mike Scott who averaged 18.0 PPG and 8.3 RPG, but they bring back Joe Harris (11.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG), the only other Cavaliers player to average double-figures in scoring last season. Jontel Evans (7.3 PPG, 3.9 APG) will be back running the point, while the team adds a few top recruits in small forwards Justin Anderson and Evan Nolte plus 6-foot-11 center Mike Tobey, who should be an important big body for Bennett to use.

MARYLAND TERRAPINS 2011-12 SU Record: 53% (17-15) 2011-12 ATS Record: 48% (13-14-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 52% (14-13-1) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1

In Mark Turgeons first season with the Terrapins, he guided the team to a 6-10 ACC record. Now he will need to find a way to compete without the only dangerous player from last years squad Terrell Stoglin, who scored 21.6 PPG. Sophomore guard Nick Faust (8.9 PPG) will need to take over the scoring onus, while Pe'Shon Howard (3.7 APG) resumes his role as starting point guard after missing half of 2011-12 with a knee injury. Highly-rated freshman Shaquille Cleare should give the team a much-needed post presence along with 7-foot-1 Alex Len (5.4 RPG) and 6-foot-8 James Padgett (8.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG).

GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS 2011-12 SU Record: 36% (11-20) 2011-12 ATS Record: 39% (10-16) 2011-12 Over (Total): 42% (11-15) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 300/1

Last years leading scorer Glen Rice Jr.also the teams lone double-digit scoreris gone after getting kicked off the team late last year, but head coach Brian Gregory brings back a heady crew of veterans from a team that averaged a putrid 60.2 points per game last season. Mfon Udofia (9.9 PPG, 2.8 APG) will have a bigger burden on him, but the hope for this squad rests with its underclassmen. After seeing limited action last year, Julian Royal could emerge as a threat at forward, while 6-foot-8 power forward Robert Carter is one of the conferences top recruits. Swingman Marcus Hunt should also be able to find important minutes as a talented freshman on this squad that should be able to exceed low expectations following an abysmal 2011-2012 campaign (4-12 record in ACC).

CLEMSON TIGERS 2011-12 SU Record: 52% (16-15) 2011-12 ATS Record: 35% (9-17) 2011-12 Over (Total): 54% (14-12) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1

Head coach Brad Brownell kept the Tigers at .500 in the ACC last season, but may struggle to do so again without departed two leading scorers, Andre Young and Tanner Smith. This is senior center Devin Bookers (10.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG) team now, while he should be should receive solid help in the frontcourt by senior forward Milton Jennings (9.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG).

WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS 2011-12 SU Record: 42% (13-18) 2011-12 ATS Record: 52% (14-13-1)

2011-12 Over (Total): 44% (12-15) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

After going 4-12 in the ACC last year, the Demon Deacons return both of their leading scorers from last years campaign in C.J. Harris (16.7 PPG) and Travis McKie (16.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Cody Miller-McIntyre could be a valuable asset as a freshman point guard, while sophomore guard Chase Fischer (6.3 PPG) will be expected to fill a much larger role in his second season.

VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES 2011-12 SU Record: 49% (16-17) 2011-12 ATS Record: 43% (12-16-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 38% (11-18) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 300/1

Despite three returning starters, this will be a new-look Hokies squad with Seth Greenberg out and James Johnson in as head coach after the team failed to make the Big Dance yet again, going 4-12 in ACC play. Last years leading scorer Erick Green (15.6 PPG) is back in the fold after he scored nearly a quarter of the teams points last season (65.1 PPG). Jarell Eddie (9.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and Cadarian Raines (5.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG) round out the returning starters. But it will take Johnson more than one year to rebuild this program, with no top recruits joining a squad that struggled to compete last season.

BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES 2011-12 SU Record: 29% (9-22) 2011-12 ATS Record: 52% (13-12) 2011-12 Over (Total): 40% (10-15) Returning Starters: 1 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

The ACC cellar dwellers last year averaged an abysmal 59.1 points per game (323rd in nation) and will need sophomore Ryan Anderson to take a big step in his second year of college ball after leading the team with 11.2 PPG and 7.4 RPG last year. Freshman Olivier Hanlan will be asked to run the point.

2012-13 ACC Power Rankings

1. North Carolina State Wolfpack: Mark Gottfried has done a masterful job at NC State and has the most talented team in the ACC. Lorenzo Brown is a dynamic athlete playing point, Scott Wood is a great shooter and C.J. Leslie is an ACC Player of the Year candidate. Gottfried has size, versatility, athleticism, talent and a hot recruiting class. Rodney Purvis, a 6-foot-4 wing who could've have gone anywhere, will be a major factor. NC State has a roster that can compete for a Final Four.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels: Roy Williams loses Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, all NBA first-round selections. But don't feel too sorry for Williams, because he has another capable team. Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald return from injury, James Michael McAdoo is set to explode, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston are top-flight ACC players and lefty Marcus Paige is a terrific point guard prospect who can motor. The Heels won't be as powerful as last year's team, but they will still vie for the ACC crown.

3. Duke Blue Devils: Mike Krzyzewski lost Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee, but Duke should be better in 2013. Veterans Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly return, and first-year contributors Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee will provide quality depth. Kelly is the team's best pure player, but the key will be the point. Which player runs the team and brings it together?

4. Florida State Seminoles: Defense and quality talent firmly place the defending ACC tournament champions in this tier. Leonard Hamilton has built his program on getting stops and being hard to score upon, and he has size and athleticism up and down his roster. This year, Florida State should score it easier and take pressure off of its

defense to get stops. The key is Michael Snaer, a great competitor who could be first-team All-ACC.

Tier two

5. Virginia Cavaliers: The Cavaliers played at one of the slowest paces in the nation last season but fought for their tempo and won 22 games (the most by Virginia since 1995), frustrating opponents with patience, good defense and Mike Scott. Scott is gone, but head coach Tony Bennett has a terrific defender and passer in Jontel Evans, a good shooter in Joe Harris, a talented wing in Malcolm Brogdon and a rebounding forward in Akil Mitchell. Bennett has a nice recruiting class, but the veterans will carry this team.

6. Maryland Terrapins: Mark Turgeon lost scoring guard Terrell Stoglin but returns emerging center Alex Len, quality wing Nick Faust and offensive rebounder James Padgett. Freshman big men Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman and combo guards Seth Allen and Sam Cassell Jr. should all contribute right away. A key is point guard, where Pe'Shon Howard will have to step forward and take over the position.

7. Miami Hurricanes: Jim Larranaga had some really nice wins and was close to an NCAA tournament berth last season, and his team has some quality players back. Durand Scott is the best scorer, Reggie Johnson is a difference-maker with his size, Kenny Kadji has shown some great flashes and Shane Larkin is a very good, but small, point guard. Freshman Tonye Jekiri is a shot-blocking athlete.

8. Clemson Tigers: The Tigers finished 8-8 in ACC play but lost top scorers Andre Young and Tanner Smith. Coach Brad Brownell has frontcourt starters Devin Booker and Milton Jennings back, and Clemson adds a five-man recruiting class led by 6-7 forward Jaron Blossomgame, a quick, athletic interior player who can step away and face the basket. Clemson will be relying on a lot of new pieces.

9. Virginia Tech Hokies: The Hokies have some quality young talent and some quality players coming in, but the coaching transition has also changed that. James Johnson takes over but will not have Dorian Finney-Smith, who transferred to Florida, and Montrezl Harrell, who signed with Louisville. Still, Jarell Eddie, Erick Green and Cadarian Raines return, and Robert Brown should be ready to go after foot surgery.

10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Brian Gregory made good strides building a new culture but lost a good recruit when Corey Heyward tore his ACL and will miss the season. Freshmen Robert Carter, Marcus Hunt and Chris Bolden should help right away. Returning big man Daniel Miller and point guard Mfon Udofia will have to lead the way.

11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Jeff Bzdelik took over a tough situation and has revamped the Deacon roster. Wake Forest should be far more competitive this season with seven freshmen coming in, led by solid point Codi Miller-McIntyre, skilled forward Tyler Cavanaugh and long, versatile wing Arnaud Moto. Wake Forest is steadily building back up.

12. Boston College Eagles: Steve Donahue has some good young players, and they had a tough baptism in the ACC as freshmen last season, going 9-22 and finishing 0-9 on the road. Returnees Ryan Anderson, and Lonnie Jackson averaged at, or just below, double figures last year and need to get better. Freshmen expected to contribute are shooter Joe Rahon and point guard prospect Olivier Hanlan.

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The question for the Pac-12 this year: Which crew of elite freshmen will prevail between Arizona and UCLA? Each team sports a deep and talented crop of top recruits and both figure to be competing in late March. Beyond that, however, the conference lacks top contenders. Stanford, California and Colorado figure to vie for an NCAA berth, but those teams lack the talent to legitimately compete with the Bruins and Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown.

Predicted Order of Finish: 1. Arizona 2. UCLA 3. Stanford 4. California 5. Colorado 6. Washington 7. USC 8. Washington State 9. Oregon 10. Oregon State 11. Arizona State 12. Utah

ARIZONA WILDCATS 2010-11 SU Record: 66% (23-12) 2010-11 ATS Record: 53% (18-16) 2010-11 Over (Total): 42% (14-19-1) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 25/1

Two of the teams three leading scorers from last season are gone for head coach Sean Miller, but with the new faces coming in, thats a good thing. Arizona brings in arguably the nations top recruiting class, and certainly the best in the conference, led by 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski who should be a force in the paint from day one. Fellow top-10 recruit Grant Jerrett stands at 6-foot-10, forming what should be the most dangerous post tandem in the Pac-12 by the end of the season. Six-foot-8 Brandon Ashley is also a top-20 recruit and McDonald's AllAmerican with a well-rounded offensive repertoire. The freshmen crew is rounded out by shooting guard Gabe York. Forward Solomon Hill (12.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG) is back from last years squad to give this team a senior veteran presence.

UCLA BRUINS 2010-11 SU Record: 58% (19-14) 2010-11 ATS Record: 55% (18-15) 2010-11 Over (Total): 53% (17-15) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 12/1

The Bruins and the Wildcats will duke it out with teams of elite freshmen, with Ben Howlands squad prepared to start up to four first-year players, though it has been an arduous process to get there with a number of them fighting NCAA violations. The most heralded of those top recruits is SF Shabazz Muhammad, who is a threat to score from anywhere on the court at any given moment. Hell be joined on the wing by Kyle Anderson, who in tandem with Muhammad will be quite difficult to defend as they both stand 6-foot-6 with dynamic inside-outside games. Thick center Tony Parker will be able to clear space for them in the middle standing at 6-foot-9 and 270 lbs while small forward Jordan Adams rounds out the crew of freshmen. Throw in returning twin forwards Travis Wear (11.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and David Wear (10.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG) plus the mountainous 305-pound Joshua Smith (9.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG) and this team is big, deep, talented and dangerous.

STANFORD CARDINAL 2010-11 SU Record: 70% (26-11) 2010-11 ATS Record: 56% (19-15) 2010-11 Over (Total): 52% (17-16-1) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Johnny Dawkins finally broke through with the Cardinal, boosting the teams wins by 11 and winning the NIT. Five of Stanfords top six scorers are back from that team, with only Josh Owens, who was third on points and first in rebounds, now gone. But Chasson Randle (13.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.1 APG) is back in the fold as a nasty shooter from deep (2.3 threes per game, 44% 3-pt FG). The offense is facilitated by fellow sharp-shooter Aaron Bright (11.7 PPG, 1.9 threes per game, 44% 3-pt FG). With forward Josh Huestis (5.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG) prepared to take a step up in his senior season, this team could very well be making some noise in the NCAA Tournament, not the NIT, this year.

CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS 2010-11 SU Record: 71% (24-10) 2010-11 ATS Record: 56% (18-14) 2010-11 Over (Total): 45% (14-17) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

The Bears figure to be in good shape this year with Justin Cobbs (12.6 PPG, 5.0 APG) back for his junior year and second season with the team. He has great vision with his passes and can shoot when given the opportunity, making 41.3% of his shots from beyond the arc last year. Hes joined back on the team by last years leading scorer Allen Crabbe (15.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG), who at 6-foot-6 is a physical guard who can knock down treys with 2.4 per game last year. Last years leading rebounder Richard Solomon (6.2 RPG in 18.2 MPG) is also back after a foot injury shortened his season. Fellow forward David Kravish (6.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG) should take a step forward in his sophomore campaign.

COLORADO BUFFALOES 2010-11 SU Record: 67% (24-12) 2010-11 ATS Record: 53% (17-15) 2010-11 Over (Total): 38% (12-20) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

Two of Colorados four double-digit scorers are back this year and that includes Andre Roberson (11.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG), who should be in the mix of all-conference honors this season after averaging a double-double as a sophomore. He is also a menace on the defensive end with more than one block and one steal per game, while he sports a jump shot that he can hit from anywhere on the floor. Six-foot-5 sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie (10.0 PPG, 44% 3-pt FG) should also be prepared to take a step up with a bigger role this season. Joining those two key core players are two top recruits in 6-foot-10 state-bred center Josh Scott and 6-foot-6 swingman Xavier Johnson, who should join Roberson and Dinwiddie in creating matchup difficulties for opponents.

WASHINGTON HUSKIES 2010-11 SU Record: 69% (24-11) 2010-11 ATS Record: 52% (17-16) 2010-11 Over (Total): 49% (16-17) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

The Huskies will be missing major production from the departed Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross, who combined for more than 32 PPG last year. But with C.J. Wilcox (14.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG) back in the fold, this team will have at least one offensive threat while 7-foot defensive monster Aziz NDiaye (7.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) will continue to shore up the paint. If Abdul Gaddy (8.1 PPG, 5.2 APG) can take the next step in his senior season running the point, this team will surprise some folks.

USC TROJANS 2010-11 SU Record: 19% (6-26) 2010-11 ATS Record: 29% (9-22) 2010-11 Over (Total): 43% (13-17) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

If this team stays healthy, there is no doubt that it should improve on last years embarrassing 6-26 finish that included a dreadful 1-17 record in the Pac-12. Leading scorer Maurice Jones transferred to Iowa State, but Aaron Fuller (10.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG) should take a big step up after missing half of last year with a shoulder injury. Sevenfooter Dewayne Dedmon (7.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG) will also be back after tearing his ACL. Shooting guard Byron Wesley (9.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG) should benefit from more surrounding talent after being forced to play a grueling 34.6 MPG in his freshman campaign. Although no impact freshmen are coming in, four important transfers could be key elements: Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee), Eric Wise (UC Irvine), J.T. Terrell (Wake Forest/JUCO) and Ari Stewart (Wake Forest).

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS 2010-11 SU Record: 51% (19-18) 2010-11 ATS Record: 56% (19-15-1) 2010-11 Over (Total): 46% (16-19)

Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

The potential for this team making any sort of noise rests in the hands of Brock Motum, a workhorse forward at 6foot-10 who led the team with 18.0 PPG and 6.4 RPG last year. Hell be able to win some games on his own as he competes for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, but he'll need help from an underrated backcourt of Reggie Moore (10.2 PPG, 5.2 APG) and DaVonte Lacy (8.5 PPG).

OREGON DUCKS 2010-11 SU Record: 71% (24-10) 2010-11 ATS Record: 61% (19-12) 2010-11 Over (Total): 55% (17-14) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

Two of the Ducks three double-digit scorers and three of their top-four overall are gone, but the one returning guy is E.J. Singler (13.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG) who is ready for the spotlight. The 6-foot-6 swingman can penetrate and shoot while guarding any position from the two to the four. The key to the success of the offense though, might be point guard Johnathan Loyd who averaged 2.9 APG in just 17.3 MPG last season. Hell have help in the backcourt from freshman Dominic Artis. For depth, the Ducks will rely on Devon Branch, Waverly Austin and Coleton Baker, all junior college transfers who head coach Dana Altman hopes can contribute on a higher level.

OREGON STATE BEAVERS 2010-11 SU Record: 58% (21-15) 2010-11 ATS Record: 52% (16-15-1) 2010-11 Over (Total): 59% (19-13) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

The Beavers bring back four starters from a squad that won 10 more games than the previous season. Gone though is the teams leading scorer Jared Cunningham. Every other key contributor is back, however, including Devon Collier (13.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG) who is a physical body in the post at 6-foot-8. Point guard Ahmad Starks is tiny at 5-foot-9, but he can shoot the rock (2.3 threes per game) and only turned the ball over 1.4 times per game last season. And the teams leading rebounder last year, 6-foot-10 Eric Moreland (5.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG), should be ready for an increased role this year after playing just 20.5 MPG last year. Hell be helped in the paint by the roundest player in the conference, Joe Burton (8.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG), who at 6-foot-7 weighs nearly 300 pounds.

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS 2010-11 SU Record: 32% (10-21) 2010-11 ATS Record: 29% (9-22) 2010-11 Over (Total): 40% (12-18) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

Herb Sendeks Sun Devils are 22-40 in his past two seasons, and the hopes for this years team rests in the hands of first-year point guard Jahii Carson, one of the top point guards in the class of 2011 (he redshirted last year) who can do everything on the offensive end of the floor. If he can pair with 7-foot-2 junior Jordan Bachynski, who scored 6.0 PPG and grabbed 4.0 RPG last season in just 17.4 MPG, to find a groove offensively, this team will finally have a hope for reversing its fortunes.

UTAH UTES 2010-11 SU Record: 19% (6-25) 2010-11 ATS Record: 50% (15-15) 2010-11 Over (Total): 47% (14-16) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

The good news for the Utes is there is nowhere to go but up after a 6-25 campaign last year. Jason Washburn (11.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG) is back for his senior season and is a force to be reckoned with in the post at 6-foot-10. Swingman Cedric Martin (7.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG) is also back, while 7-foot-3 monster Kevin Foster is fully recovered from his foot injury. Of the 11 players that were not on the roster last year, freshman SF Jordan Loveridge expects to make the biggest impact, but head coach Larry Krystkowiak is also excited about transfers Aaron Dotson (LSU) and Glen Dean (Eastern Washington), as this team tries to eke out a double-digit win total.

2012-13 Pac-12 Power Rankings

1. Arizona Wildcats The Cats fell into Mark Lyons, who graduated from Xavier with a year of eligibility left, and it makes them national title contenders this season. It's not that Lyons is great -- he isn't -- but he knows Sean Miller from playing for him before and is a sound ball-handler at the point. He also has exactly what Miller craves -- toughness. Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley instantly give the Cats a great front line to combine with Lyons and a bevy of wing players.

2. UCLA Bruins The Bruins are loaded at the frontcourt positions, but their fate may be decided by their backcourt. Sure, they added Shabazz Muhammad, who is a 3, and Kyle Anderson, a pointforward type, but the last time we saw Larry Drew with a group of young future pros -- at North Carolina -- it did not work out so well. Let's see if the time off helped him fix his game. But UCLA still has the Wear twins (Travis and David), Josh Smith and the freshman wings, which makes them a strong contender to win the league.

3. California Golden Bears Just as a reminder, in the interest of full disclosure, my brother Gregg is an assistant coach on Cal's staff. The Bears are one of two NCAA teams from the Pac-12 last season, and now Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs return, as does suspended power forward Richard

Solomon. Tyrone Wallace will compete with Ricky Kreklow for the other wing spot, as Cal finally has some depth both inside and out.

4. USC Trojans The Men of Troy bring essentially an entire new team that was sitting out or injured last season. Eric Wise is an undersized low-post player who was terrific at UC Irvine. Jio Fontan is back after tearing his ACL and Dewayne Dedmon was a disappointment after all the hype, but he should be far better this season with scorers all around him. Keep an eye on Aaron Fuller, who came from Iowa. USC has some well-traveled talent, but there is at least talent now.

5. Washington Huskies Aziz N'Diaye, Abdul Gaddy and C.J. Wilcox return for a team that lost two first-round picks. UW should be fine and solid, with better chemistry but not the talent we are used to seeing in Seattle. Scott Suggs being back along with Wilcox gives the Huskies some outstanding shooting.

6. Oregon State Beavers Jared Cunningham is a big loss for the Beavs, but everyone else is essentially back, and they have almost two different types of lineups: One in which they play fast and press and one in which they run some Princeton offense and stretch you at the 4-spot. Ahmad Starks and Devon Collier give them a good inside-out combo, but the Beavers must rebound better to climb up the Pac-12 ladder.

7. Colorado Buffaloes Carlon Brown was such an impressive leader/scorer that CU really rode him down the stretch in the Pac-12 tourney last season to get into the NCAAs (where they belonged the previous year). Brown is gone, and so is Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson. Keep an eye on Josh Scott, a freshman from Monument, Colo. Scott, along with face-up 4-man Andre Roberson, guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, make up a team that looks it is a year away.

8. Stanford Cardinal After winning the NIT, things are finally looking up for Johnny Dawkins on The Farm. Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown will have to work in talented frosh bigs Rosco Allen and Grant Verhoeven, but the Cardinal gained a ton of winning experience last postseason that hopefully will carry over into the 2012-13 campaign.

9. Oregon Ducks E.J. Singler and Tony Woods should make a good one-two punch for UO, but in this league, that puts the Ducks in the middle at best. Dominic Artis will have to lead from Day 1. He is talented, but there are some holes in his game as a pure point. Still, Oregon will be competitive.

10. Washington State Cougars Mike Ladd broke his thumb last year, and if he is healthy and playing alongside Reggie Moore and DaVonte Lacy, Wazzu is solid in the backcourt. Brock Motum is a horse in the post, but depth and inside scoring are questions for an otherwise solid team.

11. Arizona State Sun Devils Jahii Carson is very talented and should shoot it better after a year off becoming eligible, but let's not go crazy. Carson gives the Sun Devils one guy who can score, but they need a lot more.

12. Utah Utes Jordan Loveridge and Dakarai Tucker are two good gets, but the Utes are a long way from being competitive on a regular basis. Remember, this is a team that won only three conference games last season and ranked 339th in the nation with 55.5 points per game.



(Conf Gms Only)

OFFENSE: Offensive Points-Per-Possession


1. Cal 1.065 2. Ariz 1.030 (6th in PAC-10, All Gms, 1.006)

10. Ore St 0.900 9. Ore 0.950 (5th in PAC-10, All Gms, 1.028) Efficient FG (EFg) Shooting 1. UCLA 55.4% 2. Cal 52.2%

10. Ore 45.5% 9. Wash 46.1% 3-Pt Shooting 1. Ariz 38.5% (3rd in PAC-10, All Gms, 36.6%) 2. UCLA 36% (6th in PAC-10, All Gms, 33.8%) 10. Ore 28.7% 9. Wash 29% FT SHOOTING 1. Ariz 78.5% (74.6 PAC-10 All Gms, 7th NCAA) 2. Cal 74.2% (73.8 PAC-10 All Gms, 10th NCAA) 10. So Cal 62.6% 9. UCLA 63.5% (PAC-10 All Gms, 20th WORST NCAA) DEFENSE Defensive Points-Per-Possession ('D-PPP') 1. So Cal 0.824 (1st NCAA) 2. Ore St 0.937 (4th PAC-10 All 10. Wzu 1.068 9. Ore 1.058 FG% Shooting Defense 1. So Cal 37.8% (10th D-1) 2. Ariz 41.6% (6th in PAC-10 All Gms, 42.8%) 10. Wzu 46.2% (7th in PAC-10 All Gms, 43.9%) 9. Stan 46.1% (47th Poorest D-1) 3-Pt% Shooting Defense 1. Ore St 27.9% (10th D-1) 2. Ariz 29.1% (38th D-1) 10. Wash 37.6% 9. Wzu 37.3%
(6th PAC-10 All Gms, 32.5%) Gms, 0.938) (6th in PAC, All Gms, 33.8%)

Turnovers FORCED Avg/Gm

(Arguably, more accurate than just Opp T-Ov Stat)

1. Wash 15.5 2. Ore St 14.6 10. UCLA 11.6 9. Wzu 12.1 "HUSTLE BOARD" "Effort Stats" - may paint myself in a corner w/this, BUT putting on my Dual Coaching/Capping Hat, I value "Rebounds" Far Different than some, I suspect - more later Rebound% ** (PLZ see note below) 1. Wash 54.2% 2. So Cal 53.5% 10. Ore St 46% 9. UCLA 46.9% Assist/Turnover Ratio 1. Ariz St 1.145 2. Cal 1.079
(37th Best in D-1) (6th PAC-10, All Gms 13.1/Gm)

10. So Cal 0.741 9. Ore 0.789

(19th Poorest in D-1)

Personal Fouls, Team/Game 1. UCLA 14.6 2. Cal 16.6

(10th Fewest/Best, D-1)

10. Wash 23.5 9. Ariz 21 PACE

Measured by Ttl Gm Possessions/40 Min

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.


(All Gms, UW is at 76.5, #10 Nat'l)

9. UCLA 63.2 10. SO CAL 62.1

(29th Slowest Tm, D-1)

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Welcome to what may be the best conference in college basketball, led by preseason No. 1 Indiana. But this years Big Ten has three other elite teams in Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State that will challenge for the conference crown and never let the Hoosiers breathe easily. Throw in Bo Ryans nasty Wisconsin defense and Iowa and Minnesota squads with strong returning cores and this conference could send seven teams dancing, with four or five of them among the highest seeds in the bracket.

Predicted Order of Finish: 1. Indiana 2. Michigan 3. Michigan State 4. Ohio State 5. Wisconsin 6. Iowa 7. Minnesota 8. Purdue 9. Northwestern 10. Illinois 11. Penn State 12. Nebraska

INDIANA HOOSIERS 2011-12 SU Record: 75% (27-9) 2011-12 ATS Record: 62% (18-11-1)

2011-12 Over (Total): 50% (15-15) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 5/1

Say hello to the preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Tom Crean took a huge leap with last years team, winning 15 more games than the previous season. And with four returning starters and the teams five leading scorers coming back, another giant leap is in the works. Cody Zeller (15.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG) was phenomenal in his freshman campaign, making 62.3% of his field goals and averaging more than a block and steal per game. Hes joined in the frontcourt by Christian Watford (12.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG), while Jordan Hulls (11.7 PPG, 3.3 APG) and Victor Oladipo (10.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG 1.4 SPG) form a dangerous backcourt tandem. What makes this squad so threatening though is that Crean adds an elite crew of reinforcements. After missing all of last season with injuries, Maurice Creek is back and, when healthy, he might be the best pure scorer on the teamwhen he was healthy in his freshman year in 2009-2010, he averaged 16.4 PPG. And with top recruits Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner MosqueraPerea, this is a team with both significant talent and depth.

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES 2011-12 SU Record: 71% (24-10) 2011-12 ATS Record: 55% (17-14) 2011-12 Over (Total): 52% (16-15) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 20/1

John Beilein guided this team to a tie for first in last years conference and even though just two starters are back, there is no shortage of ready-to-go talent on this Wolverines squad. While the team will really miss Zack Novak and Evan Smotryczk, last years two leading scorers are back in the fold in Trey Burke (14.8 PPG, 4.6 APG) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 PPG), forming the conferences most dangerous backcourt duo as excellent dribble-drivers who combined to average nearly 3.5 three-pointers per game. Forward Jordan Morgan (7.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG) will remain a key role player while freshman SF Glenn Robinson III may be prove to be the most college-ready firstyear player in the conference. With freshman Mitch McGary manning the post at 6-foot-10, this is a complete roster that has the ideal mix of veterans and young talent to still be balling in late March.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS 2011-12 SU Record: 78% (29-8) 2011-12 ATS Record: 65% (22-12) 2011-12 Over (Total): 49% (16-17-1) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 25/1

Tom Izzos squads will always compete, and Izzo squads with this much talent have the potential to be special. Last years centerpiece Draymond Green is gone, but there is a plethora of talent waiting in the wings to take this team past last years Big Ten regular season title that they shared with Michigan. Junior guard Keith Appling (11.4 PPG, 3.9 APG) is primed for a breakout season as the go-to guy while sophomore swingman Branden Dawson (8.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG) was second on the team in rebounding as a freshman and presents significant matchup issues with his athletic 6-foot-6 frame. Six-foot-10 center Adreian Payne (7.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG) should also be prepared to handle a bigger role after making the most of his 17.9 MPG last season as well. And watch out for freshman shooting guard Gary Harris, who not only can score, but will provide MSU with a lockdown defender, which is vital in this conference with such talented guard play.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES 2011-12 SU Record: 80% (31-8) 2011-12 ATS Record: 58% (19-14-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 59% (20-14) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 20/1

Ohio State will be very different looking this year, without Jared Sullinger and William Buford, but Thad Mattas Buckeyes should still be able to hang with the best of the best in the nation. Deshaun Thomas (15.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG) is a threat both on the perimeter and in the post from the forward position and he should benefit from more opportunities. Point guard Aaron Craft (8.8 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.5 SPG) may be the best pure point guard in the Big Ten, and theres no doubt he should be able to improve now as an upperclassman. The Buckeyes missed out on a number of top recruits, but this veteran-led squad should still be dangerous, especially if Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG) takes the necessary steps forward in his junior campaign.

WISCONSIN BADGERS 2011-12 SU Record: 72% (26-10) 2011-12 ATS Record: 58% (19-14) 2011-12 Over (Total): 50% (16-16-1) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Head coach Bo Ryans Badgers may not be able to match up to Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in this years Big Ten but they should be favored against the rest of the competition. Wisconsins defense and slow tempo is legendary, holding opponents to a Division-I low 53.2 PPG, and that shouldnt change even without last years leader Jordan Taylor, who had a team-high 14.8 PPG and 4.1 APG. Now its time for Ryan Evans (11.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and Jared Berggren (10.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.7 BPG) to lead this team from the inside out. Despite standing at 6-foot-10 and playing center in a lot of Ryans lineups, Berggren is also a threat on the perimeter, averaging 1.3 threes per game last year, where he will be especially needed considering sniper Josh Gasser, who played 34.1 MPG last year and nailed 45.2% of his shots from beyond the arc, is out for the year with a torn ACL. At 6-foot-7, freshman SF Sam Dekker will be a perfect addition to Ryans style of play, giving this team a lengthy and flexible roster that should continue to play lockdown defense.

IOWA HAWKEYES 2011-12 SU Record: 51% (18-17) 2011-12 ATS Record: 53% (16-14) 2011-12 Over (Total): 57% (17-13) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

Fran McCafferys Hawkeyes are another team that took a step forward last season, winning seven more games than the previous year and churning out eight Big Ten victories. Departed Matt Gatens carried that squad with 15.2 PPG, but the rest of the core is back with Roy Devyn Marble (11.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.6 APG) able to do it all, and sophomore forward Aaron White (11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG) poised for more touches. 7-foot-1 freshman center Adam Woodbury will be a critical component joining White in the frontcourt, and fellow first-year point guard Mike Gesell should be key for helping Marble get more open looks.

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS 2011-12 SU Record: 61% (23-15) 2011-12 ATS Record: 56% (19-15-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 49% (17-18) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Ralph Sampson IIIs big body in the paint will be sorely missed, but Tubby Smith got a big break when Trevor Mbakwe (14.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG in seven games) was granted another year of eligibility after tearing his ACL before midseason last year. Without him, the Golden Gophers struggled to compete in the conference, going 6-12. But Mbakwe, Rodney Williams (12.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG) in the frontcourt and guards Julian Welch (9.5 PPG, 2.9 APG), Austin Hollins (9.2 PPG) and Andre Hollins (8.7 PPG) form a solid veteran core that will help this team compete despite the lack of any elite talent joining the fold.

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS 2011-12 SU Record: 63% (22-13) 2011-12 ATS Record: 58% (19-14) 2011-12 Over (Total): 63% (20-12) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

The new-look Boilermakers were able to grind their way to a 10-8 mark in the Big Ten, but will struggle to do so again without last years two leading scorers Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson. Terone Jackson (9.2 PPG) was effective in spurts last year at guard and will certainly see more than the 23.7 MPG he played last year. Six-foot-5 swingman D.J. Byrd (8.9 PPG, 43% 3-pt FG) is the other key player returning from last years squad. Head coach Matt Painter also adds three solid recruits in 7-foot center A.J. Hammons, 6-foot-5 shooting guard Rapheal Davis and point guard Ronnie Johnson, who should all receive significant minutes in their first years.

NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS 2011-12 SU Record: 58% (19-14) 2011-12 ATS Record: 48% (13-14-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 61% (17-11) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 200/1

Without the school's career scoring leader John Shurna, who carried last years team with 20.0 PPG and 5.4 RPG, this Wildcats squad will face an uphill battle in the Big Ten. However, the other four starters are back for head coach Bill Carmody, led by the dangerous swingman Drew Crawford (16.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG), so this team should be able to rack up at least a few conference wins. Carmody is also excited to have a talented center for a change with 7-foot freshman Alex Olah able to score, rebound and defend.

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI 2011-12 SU Record: 53% (17-15) 2011-12 ATS Record: 35% (10-19-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 59% (17-12) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1

Replacing Bruce Weber, John Groce gets a chance to take over a major conference squad that returns four starters from a disappointing team that posted a dismal 6-12 conference record. It will take him time to bring in top talent that will let this program compete again, but with three of their top four scorers coming back in Brandon Paul (14.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG), D.J. Richardson (11.6 PPG) and Joseph Bertrand (6.5 PPG, 54% FG), this team has a respectable core. Look for Bertrand and Coastal Carolina transfer Sam McLaurin to assume big roles on this team as the Fighting Illini attempt to compete during this transition period.

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS 2011-12 SU Record: 38% (12-20) 2011-12 ATS Record: 38% (9-15-3) 2011-12 Over (Total): 48% (13-14) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

The Nittany Lions may be looking forward to the hardwood to distract from the football turmoil of the last year, but Patrick Chambers crew will have a difficult time improving on last years rough 4-14 record in the conference. The good news is they still have star point guard Tim Frazier (18.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.2 APG, 2.4 SPG) who is a workhorse on the perimeter, leading Penn State in points, rebounds, assists and steals last season. Jermaine Marshall (10.8 PPG) and Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill complete a strong backcourt, but PSU will be overmatched down low on a nightly basis.

NEBRAKSA CORNHUSKERS 2011-12 SU Record: 40% (12-18) 2011-12 ATS Record: 35% (9-17) 2011-12 Over (Total): 54% (14-12) Returning Starters: 1 Odds to win 2012 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field)

The Cornhuskers get a much-needed change of direction in new head coach Tim Miles, but even he wont be able to pull the team out of the cellar this year. Five out of the teams six leading scorers from last season are gone, leaving only Dylan Talley (8.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG) to carry the load this year for these bottom feeders.

2012-13 Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

I'm picking Thad Matta's team to win the Big Ten because I'm guessing the never gun-shy and always underrated Deshaun Thomas will get some help on offense. Is the key word there "guessing"? Absolutely, but at least it's an educated guess.

Aaron Craft looked quite comfortable and newly assertive on offense by the end of last season (even though on paper he was still a defensive specialist as a sophomore), and so too did Lenzelle Smith. Maybe 6-foot-8 sophomore LaQuinton Ross, ranked by some analysts as the best player in the nation as a high school sophomore, will finally deliver on his potential after recording just 35 total minutes as a freshman due to academic issues. (Though it's hardly an encouraging tea leaf that those minutes were spread across no fewer than nine games, suggesting Matta didn't think Ross was game-ready even if the freshman had been eligible.)

And if 6-11 sophomore Amir Williams blocks shots and pulls down offensive boards as a starter the way he did in cameo appearances last year, my educated guess will look pretty sound. Over the past three seasons, with rosters spanning both the Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger eras, Matta has never ranked worse than second in conference play in perpossession scoring margin. That's fairly amazing, and I expect to be amazed again in 2013.

2. Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana's defense last season wasn't as bad as you've heard. True, the Hoosiers ranked seventh in conference play on D, but allowing 1.06 points per possession in a league where the average is 1.04 isn't stop-the-presses awful. I'm just not sure further dramatic improvements on that side of the ball will be easily attained with a roster that doesn't figure to block or alter a lot of shots or dominate the defensive glass.

Tom Crean's foul-cessation campaign was a remarkable success in 2012, but that lowhanging fruit has already been picked. What we saw last season was a team that was close to average on defense (average being a good thing, given IU's recent history on D) in all categories but one: Opponents never committed turnovers.

So, yes, I expect another year of average D in Bloomington, but I'll be shocked if Indiana doesn't have the Big Ten's best offense in 2013. They held that distinction last year, Cody Zeller and Christian Watford are still around and McDonald's All-American Yogi Ferrell arrives as the presumptive starter at point guard.

Last point: Don't underestimate what incredible offense and mediocre defense can accomplish. Florida parlayed that combination into a national title in 2007. I can very easily envision Zeller getting my vote for 2013 National POY, and, somewhat more importantly, leading his team to Atlanta.

3. Michigan State Spartans

It got lost in the shuffle of a well-deserved season-long farewell to the incomparable Draymond Green (even players at archrival Michigan admit they want to be like Green), but MSU's strength last season was their absolutely superb field goal defense. So don't be surprised if Tom Izzo's D is outstanding again in 2013, even without Green. If that turns out to be true, be sure to pull up a chair when this team faces Indiana, because you'll very likely be looking at the two best units in the Big Ten: IU's offense and MSU's defense.

On offense, Michigan State figures to be led by 6-1 junior Keith Appling, 6-9 senior Derrick Nix, and 6-6 sophomore Branden Dawson, though of late, Izzo has been talking up incoming freshmen such as 6-4 shooting guard Gary Harris, 6-9 big man Matt Costello and 6-5 wing Denzel Valentine.

4. Michigan Wolverines

Let's start with Michigan's alleged question marks. (Ha. Ask Northwestern fans if they'd switch places.) While John Beilein's team shared the league title last season with Ohio State and Michigan State, in terms of how well the respective teams played offense and defense, the Buckeyes and Spartans were in fact clearly superior. And now Beilein, a coach whose teams are known to shoot an occasional 3, has lost three of his best perimeter shooters (Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz).

True enough, but consider the following equally accurate assertions. Trey Burke will likely be a first-round pick next summer, and Tim Hardaway was Burke's co-pillar on offense for a team that, however they managed to swing it, did win a share of the title in the country's toughest conference. And then there's the fact that the incoming freshman class, headlined by 6-7 Glenn Robinson III and 6-10 Mitch McGary, ranks as one of the best in the nation. I may not be betting on a second consecutive Big Ten title for Michigan, but I love their chances to make it further in the NCAA tournament than they did last time around.

5. Wisconsin Badgers

Last season may have been the worst performance the Badgers have recorded on offense in Big Ten play since Bo Ryan arrived in Madison in 2001. That's a negative phrasing of a very positive fact, of course: Wisconsin has been almost unrelentingly outstanding on offense under Ryan. But in 2012, the Badgers were merely average on that side of the ball in 18 conference games, and they enter this season having lost their most effective source of points in Jordan Taylor.

That is not commonly a recipe for efficient scoring, but fans in Madison will remind you that Ryan had one of his finest seasons the year after Alando Tucker graduated. Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, and highly regarded freshman wing Sam Dekker will try to repeat that particular performance for a team that figures to be very good on defense for a second consecutive season.

6. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota was a pretty good team trapped in a brutal league last season. Though Tubby Smith's team went just 6-12 in conference play, the Gophers did make it all the way to the NIT finals (where they were pummeled by Stanford). This season, Minnesota fully expects to return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence.

Getting there will require many more points and way fewer turnovers than what we saw from this team in 2012. Sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe is reportedly healthy after an ACL tear sidelined him for most of last season, and Rodney Williams is back for a final season as well. It's conceivable that both of these seniors in the 6-7 to 6-8 range could be first-round picks in 2013.

7. Purdue Boilermakers

For the first time since Carl Landry was running the floor at Mackey Arena, Matt Painter faces a new season without Robbie Hummel on his roster. To meet this challenge, the coach has very wisely loaded up on highly-rated freshmen. Ronnie Johnson, a 5-11 point guard, will get serious consideration as the starter now that Lewis Jackson has also departed.

The new Boilers can look good very quickly, at least on offense, if 6-5 senior D.J. Byrd can again drain 43 percent of his 3s. (It will also help if 6-2 junior Terone Johnson can improve his foul shooting, which coincidentally enough was also 43 percent.)

Strangely for a Purdue team, however, the problem last year was actually on defense. Maybe 7-0 freshman A.J. Hammons can provide some immediate help on that front.

8. Illinois Fighting Illini

Fresh from leading his Ohio Bobcats to the Sweet 16 (and nearly pulling off the upset against North Carolina), John Groce took the head coaching job at Illinois. In theory, the new coach inherits a relatively experienced roster, even with Meyers Leonard leaving early for the NBA, but the very fact that Groce is said to be "rebuilding" the program in Champaign means those veteran players have not been terribly effective thus far.

With the Illini last season -- and for several years prior to that -- the issue was simply too few points. Way too few points. This season, Tracy Abrams should see plenty of minutes at point guard, alongside backcourt mainstays D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul (who is recovering from a broken jaw suffered in the offseason). Groce has also brought in Coastal Carolina transfer Sam McLaurin, who will be eligible immediately.

9. Iowa Hawkeyes

Fran McCaffery lost just two seniors (Matt Gatens and Bryce Cartwright) from a team that went 4-1 against the upper-tier likes of Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin last season. That should presage good things to come, but first the Hawkeyes will need to toughen up on defense. In 2012, Big Ten opponents ate Iowa alive in the paint by grabbing offensive boards and scoring points in close. If the Hawkeyes can get some stops, McCaffery's claim that the 2013 NCAA tournament is "definitely achievable" could be proven correct. The nucleus of Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe has shown it can get the ball in the basket, though the said nucleus will likely be relying on a freshman (Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, or some combination thereof) to get them the ball.

10. Northwestern Wildcats

For two years running, Wildcat fans have suffered season-long anxiety attacks, as their beloved team came achingly close not once but twice to securing its first-ever NCAA tournament bid. That should change this season, though by that, I mean simply I'm not sure Northwestern will come close enough to a bid to get any purple-clad fan too worked up in March.

Bill Carmody still faces the same challenge he has always had in Evanston -- scoring enough points to offset a very permissive defense -- but he now does so without John Shurna. Drew Crawford will attempt to continue his highly efficient ways on offense in Shurna's absence, and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire will try to shore up the D.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions

Pat Chambers says this season Tim Frazier and Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill will comprise "the best backcourt in the country." That's a tad generous to the young men in question, but Frazier in particular is a really interesting player. It is doubtful any junior in the history of the planet has ever seen his role expand as dramatically on offense as Frazier's did last season after Talor Battle's departure. More importantly, Frazier earned that expansion, serving as a truly outstanding point guard. If Frazier gets more of his 3s to fall (not an unrealistic expectation for a 79 percent free throw shooter), Trey Burke and Aaron Craft could have competition for the title of best point guard in the Big Ten.

12. Nebraska Cornhuskers

First-year coach Tim Miles inherits a team that had easily the worst offense in the league in 2012, and coming into this season, the lone returning starter is 6-10 senior Brandon Ubel. So Miles has his work cut out for him. Step one would be a team that's at least a

little more adept at scoring points by the time the Huskers move into their sparkling new downtown arena for the 2013-14 season.

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BIG 12 CONFERENCE 2012-13 PREVIEW No Texas A&M. No Missouri. But the Big 12 will always be in the college basketball spotlight with Kansas as the favorites once again, followed closely by a Baylor squad that lost three of the conferences best players, but also brings in talent that should make them dangerous. Kansas State should also make its way into the top 25 at points this year while Texas, Oklahoma State and conference newcomer West Virginia have the potential to make some noise if things gel. The conferences other newcomer, TCU, will have to pay its dues in the Big 12 cellar before they build up the talent to truly compete against traditional national powers in this conference.

Predicted Order of Finish: 1. Kansas 2. Baylor 3. Kansas State 4. Texas 5. Oklahoma State 6. West Virginia 7. Oklahoma 8. Iowa State 9. Texas Tech 10. TCU

KANSAS JAYHAWKS 2011-12 SU Record: 82% (32-7) 2011-12 ATS Record: 51% (19-18-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 35% (13-24) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 15/1 This team will have to overcome two huge losses in PF Thomas Robinson and PG Tyshawn Taylor, who combined for 34.3 PPG last year in leading the Jayhawks all the way to the NCAA title game. But with C Jeff Withey (9.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 BPG) manning the paint, this will be a difficult team to score on once again. Senior guard Elijah Johnson (10.2 PPG, 3.5 APG) should be able to step in a bigger role for head coach Bill Self and pick up some of

the scoring left by Taylor in the backcourt. Freshman Anrio Adams will join him in the backcourt, battling for minutes with swingman Travis Releford (8.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG), who is also a menace on the defensive end of the floor. The X-factor of this team could be the development of highly-touted freshman PF Perry Ellis, a state-bred athlete who could emerge as a dangerous threat in the paint and help fill Robinson's void.

BAYLOR BEARS 2011-12 SU Record: 79% (30-8) 2011-12 ATS Record: 45% (13-16-2) 2011-12 Over (Total): 58% (18-13) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 50/1 After losing to Kentucky in last years Elite Eight, this will be a new-look Baylor squad without Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Millerall gone to the NBA. But their leading scorer Pierre Jackson (13.8 PPG) returns for his senior campaign after tallying 5.9 APG last year and always threatening from beyond the arc with a 40.8% clip from beyond the arc. He should thrive as the focal point of the Bears offense and backcourt, joined by junior sharp-shooter Brady Heslip (10.2 PPG, 46% threes), who drained 26-of-48 (54%) from downtown last postseason. That veteran presence in the backcourt will be supplemented by the No. 2 center in the recruiting class, 7-footer Isaiah Austin, who should be expected to contribute immediately. Six-foot-7 freshman Ricardo Gathers is also a heralded newcomer, while fellow first-year L.J. Rose should also be effective off the bench as another great ball-handler for Scott Drews squad. Replacing that trio to the NBA will be a tall task, but this is one of the few recruiting classes in the nation prepared to deal with such a steep departing crew.

KANSAS STATE WILDCATS 2011-12 SU Record: 67% (22-11) 2011-12 ATS Record: 48% (14-15) 2011-12 Over (Total): 50% (14-14-1) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1 Kansas State welcomes former Illinois coach Bruce Weber to the fold as the head coach and he inherits a solid squad with four returning starters. That includes leading scorer Rodney McGruder (15.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG) who is a threat from deep but is also adept at using his body to score down low. Will Spradling (9.3 PPG) is also a key returning member of the backcourt having played 31.2 MPG last year. The frontcourt has undeniable size in 6foot-11 forward Jordan Henriquez (7.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and sophomore bull Thomas Gipson (7.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG), but that duo will need to contribute more buckets than they have in the past for this team to threaten. Weber will need time to build the program here, with no top recruits coming in to help the crew coming back from last season.

TEXAS LONGHORNS 2011-12 SU Record: 59% (20-14) 2011-12 ATS Record: 35% (10-19) 2011-12 Over (Total): 52% (15-14) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 75/1 Assuming Myck Kabongo is eligible to play this season (NCAA violations), this is a Rick Barnes squad that has the

potential to be dangerous if it finds its groove. But Kabongo (9.6 PPG, 5.2 APG) will have to bear a heavy load, replacing the production of JCovan Brown, who carried the team last year with 20.1 PPG. Kabongo and Sheldon McClellan (11.3 PPG) should form a potent backcourt duo, but the question is if they will be able to battle on the blocks. Six-foot-10 center Cameron Ridley is a top-10 recruit, but he should take time to develop and will have a heavy load to bear from day one. The McDonalds All-American will be joined in the post by another first-year player standing 6-foot-10, Prince Ibeh, who should actually complement Ridley well as a more athletic post player who plays excellent defense.

OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS 2011-12 SU Record: 46% (15-18) 2011-12 ATS Record: 50% (15-15-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 52% (16-15) Returning Starters: 4 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1 Even though this team brings back four starters, head coach Travis Fords hopes for this campaign rest in the hands of five-star recruit Marcus Smart, who has the potential to emerge as one of the most dangerous point guards in the nation. Hell have to make up the production of last years leading scorer Keiton Page, who averaged 17.1 PPG. In addition to Smart, swingman LeBryan Nash (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG) is a matchup nightmare while guard Markel Brown (10.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.4 APG) will also make a bigger impact. Look for sophomore Michael Cobbins (5.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.5 BPG) to also make more noise in the paint after steadily improving down the stretch last season.

WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS 2011-12 SU Record: 58% (19-14) 2011-12 ATS Record: 50% (15-15) 2011-12 Over (Total): 57% (17-13) Returning Starters: 3 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1 West Virginia and Bob Huggins join the conference, returning three starters after compiling a 9-9 record in the Big East last season. After sitting out a year, Dayton transfer Juwan Staten will be a big factor at guard while sophomore Gary Browne (6.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG) should be prepared to take a big step up in the backcourt. But replacing last years two leading scorers Kevin Jones and Darryl Bryant, who combined for almost 37 PPG last year will be a difficult task. PF Deniz Kilici (10.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) is the lone double-digit scorer returning, but he will be joined in the frontcourt by La Salle transfer Aaric Murray, who at 6-foot-10 is a shot-blocking force (143 blocks over two college season) who can also step out and hit jumpers, averaging 13.7 PPG and making 36% of his threes at La Salle.

OKLAHOMA SOONERS 2011-12 SU Record: 48% (15-16) 2011-12 ATS Record: 43% (12-16) 2011-12 Over (Total): 37% (10-17) Returning Starters: 5 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 200/1 In his second year with the Sooners, Lon Kruger will have a team returning all five starters from last years

campaign. With three returning double-digit scorers, the question is if Kruger can guide this team that won just 15 games last season to a more respectable finish. SG Steven Pledger (16.2 PPG, 42% 3-pt FG) is the best of that crew, while forwards Romero Osby (12.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and Andrew Fitzgerald (12.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG) will look to form a solid frontcourt that can hopefully help this team eclipse the .500 mark.

IOWA STATE CYCLONES 2011-12 SU Record: 68% (23-11) 2011-12 ATS Record: 66% (19-10-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 50% (15-15) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1 Fred Hoiberg is making strong progress with this Iowa State program, but he will need everything to mesh perfectly for this team to compete this season. He brings in a solid recruit in PF Georges Niang to help fill the void of last years leading scorer and rebounder Royce White (13.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG) who is now in the NBA. The biggest unknown on this team is how transfer point guard Korie Lucious will fit in after sitting out a year coming from Michigan State. Lucious has seen big moments and could be a force in the conference and will be joined in the backcourt by fellow transfer Will Clyburn, who came over to Hoiberg after averaging 17.1 PPG two seasons ago at Utah. How those two respond to their new conference will determine if this team can be a contender.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS 2011-12 SU Record: 26% (8-23) 2011-12 ATS Record: 27% (7-19-1) 2011-12 Over (Total): 35% (9-17) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field) This is a program amid turmoil with the departure of Billy Gillispie in late September, with more players transferring than coming in. Now it's up to interim head coach Chris Walker to use his up-tempo offense to try to breathe life into this program. The one Red Raiders player to watch out for will be Jordan Tolbert (11.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG), the only double-digit scorer on last season's squad that finished 1-17 in Big 12 play.

TCU HORNED FROGS 2011-12 SU Record: 55% (18-15) 2011-12 ATS Record: 46% (13-15) 2011-12 Over (Total): 64% (18-10) Returning Starters: 2 Odds to win 2013 NCAA Championship: 100/1 (Field) Welcome to the Big 12 and the conferences cellar TCU. It will take time for Trent Johnson to rebuild this program, taking over a team that went just .500 in the Mountain West last year. Six-foot-7 swingman Garlon Green (9.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG) will have to bear too much of the brunt for this years squad, and he wont be enough to make this team threaten to knock off superior teams on most nights.

Top fast-starting contenders Indiana should get to league play undefeated; Pitt positioned to rebound

When it comes to scheduling, there is no "right" way to do it, particularly if you're a major-conference coach. Some programs like to stay home and load up on the easy opponents; others like to test their team early by going on the road and playing the toughest opponents available. Mid-major programs have to fret about crafting a schedule that will boost their RPI, but the major-conference powers (and "high-mid-majors" such as UNLV -- see below) have the luxury of using the schedule simply to develop their team the way they see fit.

Today I want to look at which of the nation's (likely) top teams for 2012-13 have created schedules that give them a good shot at getting off to a fast start in November and December. Then on Tuesday, I'll analyze the other side of that coin and consider which contenders have positioned themselves for a very tough early season.

One thing to note when we talk about "easy" nonconference schedules: A top team's likelihood of running the table is not necessarily the same thing as its statistical strength of schedule. Obviously a team facing several opponents that might end up near the bottom of the RPI runs the danger of having a "low" nonconference SOS. (I'm looking at you, Missouri.) But whether you're playing an opponent that's ranked No. 225 or No. 325, you're still very likely to win. The larger question, of course, is how many good teams do you play, and where do you play them?

So with that in mind, and based on what we think we know today, here are the top teams I think will generate the "They're on a roll!" buzz early in the 2012-13 season:

5. UNLV Rebels There's a showdown looming for the Runnin' Rebels, obviously, on Dec. 29, when Dave Rice's team will cross the continent to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. I'm not saying UNLV will arrive at the NCAA tournament undefeated, but there's at least a fair chance it could make it to its date with the Tar Heels without a loss. The largest obstacle in the Rebels' path would appear to be a game in Berkeley against Cal on Dec. 9, although the trip to El Paso to play UTEP on Dec. 17 should pose a test, as well.

That being said, it's clear UNLV doesn't fear scheduling potential low-RPI opponents. With Northern Arizona, Chicago State and Cal State Bakersfield all on the schedule, the Rebels' nonconference strength of schedule likely won't be their strong suit come March.

4. Syracuse Orange Welcome to the dangers of preseason fortune-telling: I'm saying Syracuse is likely to get off to a "fast start," but I'll be the first to admit there's a chance the Orange could lose their first game, which is against the San Diego State Aztecs on the deck of an aircraft carrier in San Diego on Nov. 9. So basically, what the numbers are saying here is that the Aztecs will be an underdog in that game, even playing in their hometown. (But let's face it, aircraft carrier games are weird. All bets are off.)

Note that Jim Boeheim's team also drew a tough assignment in the Big East/SEC Challenge, as the Orange will journey to Fayetteville to play the Arkansas Razorbacks. Those two games -- along with a date with the Temple Owls in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 22 -- stand out as Syracuse's largest stumbling blocks. At the other extreme, games against Colgate and Alcorn State will pit the Orange against two opponents that could finish the year ranked worse than 300th in the RPI.

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Speaking of the Big East/SEC Challenge, the Fighting Irish got good news and bad news when those pairings came out. The good news is Mike Brey's team will be playing at home. The bad news is they'll be hosting the Kentucky Wildcats. Could the Irish arrive at that game 7-0? There's a very good chance they might. Their toughest challenges should come at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn as part of the CVC Classic in mid-November. ND will play Saint Joseph's, then the Brigham Young Cougars or Florida State Seminoles. If somehow Notre Dame were to prevail against John Calipari's team in South Bend, the Irish would then have a very good shot at getting all the way to Big East play undefeated. A game against the Purdue Boilermakers in Indianapolis, in which ND figures to be favored, would be the largest remaining roadblock.

2. Pittsburgh Panthers Yes, the Panthers are indeed likely to return to the ranks of the "top" teams after a oneseason hiatus. Normal gravitational pull with a program of Pitt's quality says so, and, even if it didn't, an outstanding freshman such as 7-footer Steven Adams should help that process along. Jamie Dixon's team is playing in the NIT Season Tip-Off, and it's not unlikely the Panthers could run into the Michigan Wolverines in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 21. That's no walk in the park, certainly, but there are already indications that, for what it's worth, not every computer ranking system is going to be as impressed by the Wolverines as human pollsters are almost certain to be early in the season.

Should the Panthers somehow prevail in the NIT event against Michigan and (likely) either

the Kansas State Wildcats or Virginia Cavaliers, the remaining schedule is beyond "kind." A home game against the Detroit Titans might be the toughest date on the calendar.

1. Indiana Hoosiers A team's chances of making a fast start are a function not only of how forgiving their schedule is but also of how good the team itself is. Indiana excels on both counts: I, along with everyone else, think the Hoosiers will be one of the top two or three teams in the nation this season, and, compared with their peer group, they have an unusually accommodating schedule laid out before them. For the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Hoosiers drew North Carolina, but Tom Crean's experienced team will face the always talented but currently young Tar Heels in Bloomington.

Past that, the question of whether IU can run the nonconference table basically comes down to whether the UCLA Bruins can live up to their preseason clippings -- and whether the Bruins will even see Indiana. Playing at the Barclays Center, the Hoosiers will face the Georgia Bulldogs in one half of the bracket at the Legends Classic in November, and UCLA will take on the Georgetown Hoyas in the other half. Assuming IU prevails against the Bulldogs, its game against the Bruins-Hoyas winner should be the toughest test faced by Crean's men.

But what about the Kentucky game, you say? Sadly, for the first time since 1969(!) the Hoosiers and Wildcats will not be playing this season. That's bad news for all college hoops fans, but it makes Indiana that much more likely to arrive at Big Ten play sporting a "0" in the loss column.

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Instant-impact recruiting classes

Hope springs eternal when it comes to college basketball recruiting classes. Once again, many of the blue-blood programs, such as the Kentucky Wildcats, North Carolina Tar Heels, Indiana Hoosiers, Michigan State Spartans and Kansas Jayhawks, have hit the jackpot with excellent recruiting classes that should help them maintain their status among the elite next season. But a number of former powerhouses and a couple of upstart programs will have to lean more heavily on their incoming recruiting classes, giving those newcomers the most opportunity to have an instant impact on the court next

season. Here are a number of teams who should dramatically benefit from their excellent crop of recruits:

1. UCLA Bruins

The Bruins under coach Ben Howland were used to being at the top of the polls and the recruiting rankings in his first six seasons, and then the bottom fell out. No team in the country needed to reload more than UCLA, and it took care of that with ESPN's No. 1 recruiting class. It's a good enough class to put the Bruins back among the elite programs in 2012-13. Shabazz Muhammad's immense talent, athleticism and intensity level will make the 6foot-5 small forward welcomed at UCLA. ESPN's No. 2-rated recruit should lead the Bruins in scoring en route to being a top-five selection in the 2013 NBA draft.

Muhammad will be joined by the multidimensional Kyle Anderson, who at 6-8 is the quintessential point forward. He doesn't have the ability to defend smaller, quicker guards, and he'd struggle with their quickness if he exclusively played point guard on offense. If UNC transfer Larry Drew can handle those roles, Anderson's court awareness will make everyone around him better. Inside, 6-9 Tony Parker should complement the finesse-oriented Wear twins and will bookend with Josh Smith well. Well tutored in high school in Atlanta, Parker is a power post player with an array of offensive moves inside. The feeling all along was that Muhammad was destined for Westwood. Because it was an open secret, it gave Howland the opportunity to revitalize a Bruins fan base that was clamoring for a coaching change. Everything is in place for a UCLA renaissance next season.

2. UNLV Rebels

Between a strong recruiting class and a couple of quality transfers sitting out, second-year

UNLV coach Dave Rice has hit the mother lode. For the first time in two decades, the Rebels will have two McDonald's All-Americans on its roster at the same time. Toronto native Anthony Bennett, the No. 7 player in the ESPN rankings who committed last weekend, is a 6-8 versatile, powerful power forward who combines inside scoring ability with a deft shooting touch. He will team with fellow Canadian and Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch, a shot-blocking defensive-oriented center who runs the floor like a deer and will be eligible at the end of the fall semester. Birch and Bennett will team with 6-8 rebounding machine Mike Moser to form one of the most athletic frontcourts in college basketball. Rice will have more flexibility because 6-5 sophomore and USC transfer Bryce Jones will give the Rebels a true threat on the perimeter when the Rebels need to play smaller. Rice's backcourt has been strengthened by underrated 6-5 combo guard Katin Reinhardt, who played at famed Mater Dei High School in Southern California. He is a high-level offensive player with some Austin Rivers in his game. Reinhardt can run a team, shoot from the perimeter and create his own shots. The Rebels looked poised to be in the top 25 in the preseason, but the Mountain West Conference will be very challenging. This recruiting class is arriving at an opportune time.

3. Michigan Wolverines

I love Michigan's class, in part because the Wolverines have added one of 2012's most underrated great players in 6-6 Glenn Robinson Jr. The son of former Purdue great Glenn Robinson is an explosive wing athlete with a nice offensive skill package who should step into the Wolverines' lineup immediately. He'll be helped on the wing by the steal of the class, 6-7 shooter and Toronto native Nik Stauskas. Robinson will also be joined by close friend and fellow northern Indiana native Mitch McGary, a 6-10 power forward who dominated at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. At times during the camp he reminded me of a young Tyler Hansbrough because of his size and nasty on-court disposition. Expectations have cooled since then, but he is expected to help the Wolverines' frontcourt immediately. These three guys should fit nicely into coach John Beilein's two guard offensive system. His motion-type offense has the flexibility to incorporate each player's strengths into it. These freshmen will also have the luxury of playing with one of the nation's best playmakers, Trey Burke, next season. Believe me, they'll make his life easier too.

4. Iowa Hawkeyes

One thing a new coach must do is try to protect his recruiting turf. Sometimes it takes a couple of years to create the relationships needed to do so. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has done that by quietly adding two important local building blocks and former AAU teammates, 6-11 center Adam Woodbury and 6-1 point guard Mike Gesell, to the Hawkeyes. Both hail from the Sioux City area, although Gesell's high school is on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River. Woodbury is a skilled big man who plays with energy and urgency. His combination of excellent hands, agility and offensive weapons around the basket give the Hawkeyes an anchor inside. In addition, he is an excellent rebounder and a great talker on the defensive end of the floor, a rarity for a young player. Gesell gives McCaffery a floor general for the next four seasons. He is tough and competitive, can shoot the ball from deep and always gives the ball up quickly and efficiently to open teammates. He is quick enough and tough enough to defend in the rugged Big Ten. Although Kansas' program was already rolling when Roy Williams signed Iowa stars Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, Woodbury and Gesell could be as important a duo to the Hawkeyes. Like those Jayhawks, these two guys are battle-tested winners.

5. Providence Friars

Coach Ed Cooley is slowly bringing excitement back to his hometown. Even before his first season as coach of the Friars, he was able to corral Providence's best recruiting class in decades. Cooley has solidified a Friars backcourt that already has All-Big East-level guard Vincent Council with McDonald's All Americans Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo. Dunn is a 6-2 point guard with nasty change-of-direction quickness and nice finishing ability around the rim. He has been invited to compete for a spot on USA Basketball's under-18 national team in June. The 6-6 Ledo, who is a Providence native, is one of the best scorers in the Class of 2012

and has NBA prototype shooting guard size and skill. If he blossoms and matures under Cooley, he should immediately be one of the most exciting players in the Big East. Add in hopefully motivated 6-8 Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson and Cooley is off to the races. Johnson, a New Yorker who wanted to play closer to home, is a talented inside player who needs to make the most of his second chance. He'll have three-and-a-half seasons of eligibility.

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Top 25 players in college hoops Ranking the top 25 impact players in the nation for 2012-13

1. Cody Zeller Forward | Sophomore | Indiana Hoosiers Zeller, maybe the most important recruit to come to Indiana since Isiah Thomas, is set for a dominant sophomore season. He is on a deep and talented Indiana team that will look to him for leadership. The expectation is that he'll be the front-runner for national player of the year. Along with the player who checked in at No. 2 on this list, Zeller was as ultra-efficient an offensive player as anyone in the country last season. For starters, he didn't mind mixing it up inside, getting to the foul line 216 times (and making 76 percent of his free throws). And he shot 62 percent from the field, with most of those shots taken in the lane. In fact, while Zeller may be working hard to expand all aspects of his offensive game, including playing away from the basket, it's how well he performs in the paint that will matter most to Indiana's championship aspirations.

2. Doug McDermott Forward | Junior | Creighton Bluejays As colleague John Gasaway pointed out earlier this offseason, it's hard to have a more ridiculously efficient season than McDermott enjoyed a season ago. He averaged 23 points per game on 60 percent shooting, including 49 percent from behind the arc. And while the Bluejays return the bulk of their core from last season, McDermott will continue to shoulder the burden of the scoring load. It's not fair to compare him to Larry Bird, Hersey Hawkins and Xavier McDaniel, but few players have dominated the Missouri Valley the way McDermott has.

3. Isaiah Canaan Guard | Senior | Murray State Racers Few guards in college basketball can combine explosive quickness (which is especially valuable for Canaan in the Racers' screen-and-roll game) with 3-point range that extends out to the NBA distance, but that's exactly the kind of skill set Canaan brings to the table. Ever since Canaan's supersub season as a freshman, he has earned the respect of opponents at every level. And this summer, he more than held his own at the Nike LeBron James Skills Academy in front of the NBA scouting community. For a guard who handles the ball a majority of the time and played 84 percent of his team's minutes in 2011-12, Canaan is an extremely efficient player.

4. Tony Mitchell Forward | Sophomore | North Texas Mean Green With an entire season under his belt after sitting out a year for academic reasons, Mitchell is set to dominate the Sun Belt with his athleticism this season. He has a Dennis Rodmanesque motor and knack for rebounding with the jumping ability of a kangaroo. He is more than capable of knocking down 3-point shots as well. Given Mitchell's status as a top-25 recruit a couple of seasons ago, his freshman season for North Texas and his potential to star in 2012-13, I expect him to play at an All-America level en route to earning a spot in next June's NBA draft lottery. And in the process, he'll make the Mean Green one of those classic bracket-buster teams come March.

5. Phil Pressey Guard | Junior | Missouri Tigers Without discounting the impact of underrated and ultra-efficient Michael Dixon Jr. in the backcourt and the return of injured Laurence Bowers up front, the Tigers will be led this season by the dynamic point guard play of Pressey. The 6-foot junior flourished in Frank Haith's system a year ago and will ease the Tigers' transition to the SEC. Pressey is a human fast break with excellent vision and quickness, and he's a better shooter than people think when left open. While he is small, his solid junior season is likely to propel the SEC preseason player of the year into the first round of next June's draft.

6. C.J. Leslie Forward | Junior | North Carolina State Wolfpack Leslie made a big transformation a season ago under new Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried. Averaging nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game, Leslie helped lead his team to a surprising spot in the Sweet 16 and has spurred talk of a deeper run in the NCAA tournament this season. Early indications are that Leslie has continued to improve since the end of last season. If he can combine his supreme athleticism with consistent energy, he will be a dominant player this season. At 6-foot-8, Leslie is too quick for bigger defenders because he uses that quickness around the basket -- both off the dribble and on the offensive glass. He is tremendous in transition as well. He enters the season as the best player in the ACC.

7. Peyton Siva Guard | Senior | Louisville Cardinals The Cardinals are loaded with talent and depth, but Siva is the straw that stirs the drink. Few players in college basketball can get a piece of the paint off the dribble like he can. And his pick-and-roll acumen and decision-making have improved in each of his first three seasons.

If Rick Pitino's point guard can shoot better from the perimeter and keep opponents honest, Louisville has a chance to win its first NCAA title since 1986. Siva is capable of doing just that -- and he might end up as an All-American when all is said and done.

8. C.J. McCollum Guard | Senior | Lehigh Mountain Hawks It is a little funny that McCollum wasn't the Patriot League Player of the Year last season. That honor went to Bucknell's Mike Muscala. But while Muscala was playing in the NIT, McCollum and his Lehigh teammates were stunning Duke in the NCAA tournament. The 6foot-3 guard led the upset with a 30-point effort. This season begins with more college basketball fans knowing about the Canton, Ohio, native, as he looks to build on his 2,074 career points. A season-opening game at Baylor and a Jan. 5 contest at VCU should bring more national attention to McCollum and his Mountain Hawks teammates. NBA teams, however, have already been paying attention.

9. Deshaun Thomas Forward | Junior | Ohio State Buckeyes If you are taking bets on which players can lead the nation in scoring this season, Thomas has to be near the top of the list. The junior forward was already a lethal scorer last season, making 60 percent of his 2-pointers and an adequate 34 percent of his 3s, and that was with Jared Sullinger and William Buford combining to take 928 shots. With those guys gone, Thomas will happily fill the void. He'll have scoring opportunities all over the court. Count on him having at least one 40-point game this season.

10. Gorgui Dieng Center | Junior | Louisville Cardinals If Dieng has truly added 20 pounds of muscle, something that has been hinted at this offseason, the Big East had better watch out. The 6-foot-10 junior, with his ridiculous wing span and athleticism, led the league with 3.2 blocks a game last season and ranked 21st in the country in block rate at 10 percent. Only Kansas' Jeff Withey protects the rim better than Dieng does.

It's unlikely that Dieng is going to score much more than the nine points per game he averaged last season, but that won't be necessary on this season's deep Cardinals team. That said, he is certainly not inept offensively. There will be nights that he dominates games on both ends of the court. Pitino is counting on some of those games happening in late March.

11. Pierre Jackson Guard | Senior | Baylor Bears Jackson is college basketball's ultimate high-wire act. He is an exciting player with explosive ability who was often great under pressure for Baylor last season. He averaged almost 18 points and seven assists per game in the NCAA tournament. And while it didn't always look like it, he was very efficient last season as well. He was 10 made free throws from being a "180 shooter" -- a player who shoots 90 percent from the line, 50 percent from the field and 40 percent behind the arc. With three of the Bears' frontline stars off to the NBA, Jackson has a chance to have an even bigger impact as a senior.

12. Mason Plumlee Forward | Senior | Duke Blue Devils In a season during which perennial power Duke is looking for a go-to guy, it's likely that the Blue Devils will turn to the enigmatic but immensely athletic Plumlee, a 6-foot-10 senior. While this ranking may be too high for some, the fact is that Plumlee is a beast who plays with a high motor and can rebound and block shots with anyone. He will justify my faith in him if he is able to have a consistent impact on the game on the offensive end. After talking with some of my NBA spies who have been to Durham, I'm expecting Plumlee to have a huge impact on the ACC this season.

13. Lorenzo Brown Guard | Junior | North Carolina State Wolfpack

At 6-foot-5, Brown has the perfect frame to play point guard in head coach Mark Gottfried's "UCLA high post" offense. And his abilities as a player on both ends of the floor will have a direct impact on how much of a breakthrough NC State can make this season. Brown is big enough to post up and see into the post when passing, strong enough to get to the paint off the dribble and a good enough outside shooter to keep defenses honest. The proof is in his numbers. He was not only a double-figure scorer in his last 14 games of the 2011-12 season, when NC State was at its best, but he had 12 games of eight assists or more over the course of the season. It's a great feeling for a coach when your glue guy and team connector is also one of your two best players and a future NBA first-round pick. NC State is getting plenty of preseason love (No. 6 in the debut AP poll), and Brown is a big reason.

14. Jarnell Stokes Forward | Sophomore | Tennessee Volunteers Stokes enrolled at Tennessee in early January last season and became an instant impact player for the Vols before he even learned the playbook. He ended up averaging almost 10 points and seven rebounds per game for coach Cuonzo Martin, earning himself a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team. After a monster summer playing for Billy Donovan and the U.S. under-18 team, for which he averaged 14 points a game, he is ready to dominate the SEC in the paint. In fact, I believe at 6-8 and 270 pounds he will prove to be the physically strongest player in the conference and one of the front-runners for SEC Player of the Year.

15. Aaron Craft Guard | Junior | Ohio State Buckeyes Craft has that choirboy look, but he was a defensive demon for a Buckeyes team that had the second-most efficient D in college basketball last season. It was a unit good enough to fuel Ohio State's run to the Final Four, and Craft deserves a fair share of credit for that. While Jared Sullinger and William Buford are gone, the return of Craft and Deshaun Thomas will keep Thad Matta's team in the mix at the top of the Big Ten. In order to have a maximum impact on the Big Ten race this season, Craft will have to make major contributions on both ends of the court. I'm nitpicking Craft's game here, but he only averages 3.3 free throw attempts per game. So he'll have to utilize his dribble better to break defenses down and attack the rim, but it already sounds as though he'll be making a concerted effort to score more in 2012-13.

16. Trey Burke Guard | Sophomore | Michigan Wolverines There are a slew of terrific point guards returning around the country, and Burke is one of the best. He was the Wolverines' leader in scoring and assists as a freshman last season, and he should be even more comfortable in John Beilein's unique offensive system in his second season. He has already become the team's leader, along with Tim Hardaway Jr., heading into 2012-13. There are still areas in which Burke can improve, most notably by becoming a more consistent perimeter shooter and a better finisher around the rim. And with his 6-foot-5 wing span, he has the potential to become a terrific defender, as well. Nevertheless, Beilein says he would not trade Burke for any point guard in the country -- and it's easy to see why.

17. BJ Young Guard | Sophomore | Arkansas Razorbacks Young, a highly decorated high school recruit for Arkansas, was inherited by new coach Mike Anderson last season. The result appears to be a marriage made in Hog Heaven. The 6-4 guard flourished in the coach's "fastest 40 minutes of basketball" system in 201112, on his way to becoming the top scoring freshman in a very good conference. After watching him compete at the Nike LeBron James Skills Academy in July, I have a feeling that he is about to become more well-known outside the state of Arkansas. He scores like he breathes; he'll have a huge impact on the SEC this season.

18. Solomon Hill Forward | Senior | Arizona Wildcats Maybe it's East Coast bias, but Hill doesn't get nearly the national recognition he deserves. He is one of the best players in the country that few talk about, and the best all-around returning veteran in the Pac-12. Once a 6-3 point guard in high school, the now 6-6, 225-pound senior ended his junior season with seven double-doubles in his last 16 games. While he is not quite on the same

level as former Michigan State star Draymond Green, he is a similarly versatile player. He is physical in the paint and a mismatch on the perimeter. With the Wildcats' guard positions in flux, head coach Sean Miller has the confidence to put the ball in Hill's hands, as well. Given how many different ways Miller uses his multidimensional senior, Hill is easily capable of being the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2012-13.

19. Andre Roberson Forward | Junior | Colorado Buffaloes While I am not as high on the 6-7 Roberson as an NBA prospect as some are just yet, there is no denying how great of an impact Roberson can have on the Buffs' fortunes this season. He is one of the nation's elite rebounders -- in fact, his defensive rebounding rate of 30 percent was second only to Thomas Robinson's last season. Roberson's rebounding ability combined with his shot-blocking gives head coach Tad Boyle a defensive anchor that'll help him compete with the best opponents in the Pac-12. If Roberson's offensive game continues to evolve, the Buffs may be able to duplicate their 24 wins and NCAA tournament appearance from a season ago.

20. Nate Wolters Guard | Senior | South Dakota State Jackrabbits Wolters isn't the pro prospect that Damian Lillard was last season, but he's every bit as good of a college guard coming out of the mid-major level. I saw him almost singlehandedly destroy the Washington Huskies with a 34-point, 7-assist, 5-rebound and 0turnover performance last December. The one knock against Wolters is that he has an inconsistent outside shot, but he has a Kirk Hinrich-like style and toughness that would make him a very good player in any league. His performances against high-level competition back that up, and his stat line across the board is plenty impressive: 21 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists per game last season.

21. Jeff Withey

Center | Senior | Kansas Jayhawks The 7-1 Withey has gone from being an invisible man as a freshman transfer to Kansas to one of the most prolific defensive players in college basketball. There might not be a better defender in the nation right now. If he continues his trend of blocking one of every seven of KU opponents' 2-point field goal attempts, he'll have a chance to make an AllAmerican team or two just on that end of the court. Of course, given that no coach in the country is better at getting the ball inside than Bill Self, Withey is going to help the Jayhawks score some points, too.

22. Michael Snaer Guard | Senior | Florida State Seminoles After struggling to meet high expectations during his first two seasons in Tallahassee, Snaer had his breakout season as a junior. He hit two buzzer-beaters in ACC play, against Duke and Virginia Tech, and was a much more consistent scoring threat overall. As important as his scoring will be to Leonard Hamilton's team, Snaer might be an even better defensive player. He is one of the best lockdown defenders in the country, and his intensity will definitely rub off on his teammates. With the Seminoles having lost several key players from last season's team to graduation, it's up to Snaer to keep FSU in the middle of the ACC race.

23. Matthew Dellavedova Guard | Senior | Saint Mary's Gaels Dellavedova played for Australia against Team USA in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in 2009 and has been on the radar ever since. This summer he was one of two NCAA players to represent his country in the Olympic games. Dellavedova's offensive strength is that, at 6-4, he might be the best pick-and-roll guard in college basketball (along with Louisville's Peyton Siva). It's a huge reason he has been one of the most efficient players in the country in each of his first three seasons. He displays great toughness as well, and when he's on his game, the Gaels can play with almost anyone in the nation.

24. Jamaal Franklin Guard | Junior | San Diego State Aztecs The 6-5 junior (and reigning Mountain West Player of the Year) is the best player on a team that could be the best in its conference this season. While Franklin won't have to do it alone, as four starters return for the Aztecs, he has the ability to carry his team deep into the NCAA tournament. While Franklin averaged 17.4 points per game a season ago, it was his 7.9 rebounds per game from the guard position that really stood out. He is one quality season away from landing in the middle of the NBA draft's first round in June.

25. Mike Moser Forward | Junior | UNLV Rebels Moser, a 6-8 junior, would be higher on this list had he not struggled down the stretch after his sizzling start to the 2011-12 season, which included a 16-point, 18-rebound game in a win over North Carolina. In his last eight games, the UCLA transfer averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds, including a pedestrian 10-point, 9-rebound game in an NCAA tournament loss to Colorado. With the Rebels loaded up front this season, head coach Dave Rice might play Moser more on the perimeter. However, when push comes to shove, he'll be right back to dominating in the paint with his relentless motor. That kind of effort should have a major impact on the Mountain West race.

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What to know when gambling on NCAA Basketball

Here you will find both basic and advanced college basketball betting strategies. These NCAA basketball gambling tips will help players of all levels better their handicapping strategy and increase their overall winnings.

Advantage of betting college basketball

College basketball creates some of the best betting opportunities of all major sports. This is due to line discrepancies. With over 300+ Division 1 basketball teams, the lines makers do not have the time to research every game in-depth and set the perfect line. An opening line may move 10 points or more because the professional betters see these discrepancies and pounce on the early line. These bad lines create many opportunities for college basketball gamblers. When a line is off by 5 or more points, this is a huge margin, greatly increases your chances winning the bet.

Remember this, Underdogs make you money

Most successful professional and amateur college basketball handicappers focus putting their money on underdogs. Getting in the habit of taking the points creates more value and a greater chance of success in betting college basketball. The main reason for this is simple regardless of the rankings, matchup or scoreboth teams are trying to win the game. Its very possible at the end of the game the underdog is still attempting a comeback, while the favored team is just trying to preserve their lead (not cover the spread). This dynamic causes many underdogs to cover the spread in the final minutes of the game. This point cannot be stressed enough. You will have to bet favorites every now and them, but be sure to focus the majority of attention (and money!) on underdogs.

Know the Conference, be the Conference..:

If you become a specialist in a specific conference, and and know the players, coaches, playing styles, and injuries for all the teams in that conference, you have invaluable insight that most odds makers do not have. This insight can expose many favorable opportunities, where you know the line better than the lines makers do! Pay attention to under-exposed conferences, where they play good basketball and you can gain an edge. These conferences include Mountain West, West Coast Conference, Horizon League, Colonial Athletic Assoc.

Stats to focus on:

With all the stats out there, on all the websites, it can easily become very overwhelming on which stats to focus on. When handicapping college basketball we like to keep it simple. We focus on 3 major statistical categories. This will give you a feel of a team at just a glance. Very easy, and we like easy

Defense, Defense, Defense

Defense is a huge factor in the outcome of a NCAA basketball game. When handicapping a game pay close attention to the Field Goal percentage allowed (FG%) and Three Point Field Goal Percentage allowed (3FG%) allowed. The best defenses in the league average 40-41 FG% allowed and around 30 3FG% allowed. This is also useful information when trying to handicap the over/under. If you notice both teams allow 46-47 FG% allowed, then there is a very good chance this will be an fast paced game, with very little defense. Lean towards the over in this situation.

Draining from Downtown

Three point shooting Possible the singe most important stat in handicapping NCAA basketball. The three point field goal is a talent equalizer. A team could be totally outmatched physically, athletically but if they can bury the three then they have a shot to win the game. A team with a three point shooting percentage (3P%) of 37% or better shows the team is an elite 3 point shooting squad. When handicapping college basketball underdogs, 3P% will help you determining if they can keep the game close. Also, this stat is a great way to discover over/under plays if both teams can hit the three you might have found a very attractive over play.

Hitting the boards

Rebounding margin a great stat to determine how physical a team plays. When a team is more physical and hitting the boards on a consistent basis, it gives them a better chance to keep the game close, if not win outright. When a team has a rebounding margin +5 or above this team is very physical and knows how to hustle.

If a team such as this is a big underdog, they might be an attractive play due to their physical nature of play, and ability to get the extra shot by hitting the boards.

Specific Situations to Exploit

There are certain situations in college basketball that yield some value to the player. Lines could be juiced to the favorite or a rivalry game could be underrated by lines makers. Being alert to these situations could show you big pay days if taken advantage of.

Head to Head, they put up a fight

For one reason or another, some teams have good success head to head, regardless of records, rankings or stats. Rivalry games also tend to be a closely contested match. A good example of this is NC State vs. Duke. Over the past few seasons NC State has always given Duke a good game, regardless of the line. Why? Who knowsbut chances are when these to teams meet up it will be a good game. Pay attention to head to head past performances to try to determine if a trends is noticeable, especially in rivalry games.

Ranked #1, On the road again

When a team is ranked #1 in country there is a target on their back. Everyone wants to knock them off. When traveling on the road, it maybe a very hostile environment, cause it difficult to dominate the team defending their home gym. Look for opportunities where the top ranked teams are giving points on the road.

Joe Public loves the favorite, and the Lines Makers know it
One thing the lines makers know for sure the public loves to bet the favorite. They also know the public loves to bet on the teams highlighted by ESPN and other news services. This causes the lines makers to juice the lines, favoring the top teams. Look for lopsided lines, when the favorite is giving to many points, purely due to the fact that Joe Public has fallen in love with the team and is only betting on them in hopes they win.

Focus on taking the points, betting underdogs Learn/study conferences better than the sportsbooks Concentrate your handicapping on the following stats: Defenense, 3 point shooting percentage, Rebounding Margin Exploit match-ups that are historically close games Look to bet against the #1 team in the country Again, focus on the underdogs they will make you money in the long run College basketball is an amazing game and when handicapped correctly, with the correct tools and knowledge, it can provide many favorable situations for the gambler. Whether its betting all underdogs, knowing the MAC conference like the back of your hand, or exploiting all favorable head to head matchupsfind your strategy, refine it, and you will be a successful NCAA College Basketball Handicapper